Record Numbers of Public-Private Partnerships Propelled US Innovation in 2021, Survey Finds

January 10, 2022 — Partnerships between US research institutions and technology companies continued to grow in 2021, with technology transfer offices executing a record number of licenses and options for a second consecutive year to spur innovation, according to AUTM’s Annual Licensing Activity Survey, which polls US universities, hospitals and other research institutions.

Every year, universities and research institutions across the United States develop inventions – more than 510,000 in the last 30 years – from artificial intelligence advancements to life-saving treatments. Those innovations are licensed to industry on their journey to the market for the benefit of society.

The 2021 Licensing Survey reported 10,347 licenses and options, outpacing the previous high of 10,050 set in 2020. Funding for the research that makes licensing possible totaled $82 billion in 2021, just slightly lower than in 2020.

“From COVID vaccines to the products and services used every day, innovations arising from universities and other non-profit institutions have simply changed the world.” said AUTM CEO Stephen J. Susalka. “The results of this 2021 AUTM Licensing Survey clearly demonstrate that, even facing challenging headwinds, institutions are making a substantial economic and societal impact across the United States.”  

The 2021 report is based on data gathered from 155 research institutions. With three decades of collected metrics, the Survey provides the definitive benchmark for measuring the impact of academic research innovation.

The key findings of the 2021 Survey show:

  • Total research expenditures topped $81.9 billion, with federal sources accounting for the largest share of funding at 57.6%.
  • Overall, the total number of licenses reported in the survey rose to 8,614, with 70% of licenses executed as non-exclusive agreements.
  • Technologies developed at universities and other research institutions led to 996 startups being formed, which directly impacts local economies; two thirds of the new businesses are headquartered in their institution’s home state.

These achievements are even more notable given that research institutions have faced many of the same COVID-driven logistical and staffing challenges as other industries. But with federal funding for research positioned to get a significant boost from the recently passed CHIPS and Science Act, which will establish a technology, innovation, and partnerships directorate at the National Science Foundation to focus on fields like semiconductors, advanced computing and communications, energy, quantum and bio technology, the future of the innovation economy looks much brighter than it did in the early days of the global pandemic.

It was the passage, in 1980, of the Bayh-Dole Act, that unlocked taxpayer-funded discoveries made in universities, hospitals and other research institutions and unleashed innovation impact across the US. The share of research funding from federal dollars has fallen to 58% of total R&D spending, down from more than 70% when the AUTM Survey was first published in 1991. Appropriation of the federal research funding authorized by the CHIPS Act is expected to help reverse that trend as the need for additional resources to support research and technology transfer will increase.

About the Survey
To find the complete survey and read additional analysis about this year’s findings, visit the AUTM website. Also available is AUTM’s technology transfer infographic on driving the innovation economy. If you’d like to go beyond the data provided in the Survey, consider AUTM’s STATT Database. Reporters who would like guest access to the database should reach out to the listed media contact, below.