The UNU-MERIT survey shows that Europe performs better than the United States on two of the three indicators for the actual commercial use of public research (licenses executed and start-ups) and comes a close second on a third indicator (licence revenue as a share of research expenditure). In 2004, per million dollars in research expenditures, European public research institutes executed 20% more licenses, established 40% more start-up firms, and earned only 10% less license revenue than American universities.
There are problems of comparability between the US and European data, and part of the European success on license revenue is due to very good performance of government research institutes. Furthermore, “none of these indicators measure successful commercialisation of the results of public research”, say UNU-MERIT’s researchers Anthony Arundel and Catalina Bordoy. “A start-up can fail, a license may not lead to anything of value and even license revenue can be earned without the firm bringing an invention to the market or making a profit from it. Nevertheless, the results are intriguing and show that European academics might be far more ‘entrepreneurial’ than commonly thought.”
To improve indicators on the commercialization of publicly funded research, the UNU-MERIT researchers propose several steps that should be taken to improve the existing questionnaires from different countries in order to make the results fully comparable. They note that this should not be particularly difficult.