AUTM 2020 US Licensing Survey

US Innovation Thrived in 2020 as COVID-19 Battered the Globe, Survey Finds

WASHINGTON, DC – August 26, 2021 – Despite a year of unprecedented limitations and cutbacks as COVID-19 surged worldwide, innovation thrived in the US with technology transfer offices signing 10,050 licenses and options in 2020, a 7% increase from 2019 and a record high, according to AUTM’s Annual Licensing Activity Survey, which polls US universities, hospitals and other institutions.

The report also showed that federally-funded research increased 18.6% from 2019 — the largest ever recorded increase in the survey history. This is attributed in part to the COVID funding implemented at the onset of the pandemic. Spurring this activity were new licensing guidelines from AUTM that prioritized speed and access in getting innovation into the marketplace. The guidelines recommended offering time-limited, non-exclusive, royalty-free licenses in exchange for a rapid and broad distribution of products and services addressing the pandemic. More than 95 universities and related stakeholders signed on, with many sharing their ongoing research. 

The 2020 report is based on data gathered from 197 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 2020 Survey also showed other historic highs:

  • Total research expenditures grew to a record $83.1 billion, an increase of 7.6% over 2019, and a nearly 25% increase over the past five years.
  • 27,112 invention disclosures were received, indicating a high level of innovation taking place at research institutions.
  • 1,117 startups were formed in 2020, directly impacting local economies, with nearly 69% of the new businesses remaining in their institution’s home state.
  • 933 new consumer products born from academic research entered the market.
  • 8,706 US patents were issued in 2020 as research institutions invested in and protected intellectual property arising from academic research.

Every year, universities and research institutions across the United States develop inventions – more than 510,000 in the last 30 years – from life-saving treatments to protective gear for front-line healthcare workers battling the novel Coronavirus.

With its passage in 1980, the Bayh-Dole Act became a catalyst for this innovation. The historic legislation unlocked taxpayer-funded discoveries made in universities, hospitals and other research institutions. However, the share of research funding from federal dollars has fallen to 58%, from more than 70% when the survey was first published in 1991.

“Now more than ever, we need our policymakers and legislators to support a framework that provides strong research funding and a reliable intellectual property environment to move breakthrough discoveries to the marketplace for years to come,” said AUTM CEO Stephen J. Susalka. “The COVID-19 pandemic — and science’s swift response — demonstrates why research is vital to our wellbeing.”

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.

About AUTM
AUTM is the nonprofit leader in efforts to educate, promote and inspire professionals to support the development of academic research that changes the world and drives innovation forward. Our community is comprised of more than 3,000 members who work in more than 800 universities, research centers, hospitals, businesses and government organizations around the globe. To learn more about AUTM, visit

Media Contact
For more information or an interview, please contact:
Paul Stark
AUTM Marketing and Communications Director
[email protected]

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