Academics’ Motives, Opportunity Costs and Commercial Activities Across Fields
Scholarly work seeking to understand academics’ commercial activities often draws on abstract notions of the institution of science and of the representative scientist. Few scholars have examined whether and how scientists’ motives to engage in commercial activities differ across fields. Similarly, efforts to understand academics’ choices have focused on three self-interested motives – recognition, challenge, and money – ignoring the potential role of the desire to have an impact on others. Using panel data for a national sample of over 2,000 academics employed at U.S. institutions, we examine how the four motives are related to patenting activities. We find that all four motives predict patenting, but their role differs systematically between the life sciences, physical sciences, and engineering. These field differences are consistent with differences in the payoffs from commercial activities, as well as with differences in the opportunity costs of time spent away from “traditional” research, reflecting the degree of overlap between traditional and commercializable research. We discuss implications for future research on the scientific enterprise as well as for policy makers, administrators, and managers.
Wesley M. Cohen, Henry Sauermann, and Paula Stephan