Knowledge transfers from federally supported R&D


The purpose of this paper is to identify covariates with publication activity, a form of knowledge transfer, from SBIR publicly funded research. The paper offers an argument about the policy relevance of studying knowledge transfers from publicly funded research that occurs in private sector firms. Relevant explanatory variables are the length of the funded research project, university involvement in the project, the firm’s history of SBIR funding, and the academic background of firms’ founders.

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  1. 1.

    President Roosevelt passed away on April 12, 1945.

  2. 2.

    There is a relevant literature on the impact of the Bayh-Dole Act on publicly funded university-based research. See, Grimaldi et al. (2011) and Link and van Hasselt (2019).

  3. 3.

    Link and Scott (2010) have previously focused on the commercialization of innovation from SBIR research projects. See also, Link (2013).

  4. 4.

    The relevant amendments are, as documented and discussed in Schacht (2012), the Federal Technology Transfer Act of 1986 (Public Law 99–502), the 1988 Omnibus Trade and Competitiveness Act (Public Law 100–418), the 1990 Department of Defense Authorization Act (Public Law 101–189), the National Defense Authorization Act for FY1991 (Public Law 101–510), the 1996 Technology Transfer Improvements and Advancement Act (Public Law 104–113), and the Technology Transfer Commercialization Act of 2000 (Public Law 106–404).

  5. 5.

    To the best of my knowledge, the only empirical study of the impact of the Stevenson-Wydler Act on federal laboratory patenting is by Link et al. (2011).

  6. 6.

    Prefacing each fiscal year report is the statement: “This report fulfills the requirement of Title 15 of the United States Code, Section 3710(g)(2), for an annual report summarizing the use of technology transfer authorities by federal agencies.”

  7. 7.

    These mechanisms are discussed in each annual report by the TPO, and descriptive analyses of the associated metrics are in Link and Oliver (2020).

  8. 8.

    See Link and Scott (2019a, 2019b) for studies of scientific publications from NIST, See Link and Oliver (2020) for a descriptive analysis of scientific publications from federal laboratories.

  9. 9.

    Metrics related to scientific publications are conspicuously absent from the TPO’s Federal Lab Technology Transfer Database v.2015; see,

  10. 10.

    U.S. Technology Policy (Executive Office of the President 1990), arguably our nation’s first formal technology policy statement, also emphasized technology transfer from federal laboratories.

  11. 11.

    The Patent and Trademark Law Amendments Act (Public Law 96–517), informally known as the Bayh-Dole Act, was passed in 1981 as companion legislation to the Stevenson-Wydler Act. The motivation for the Act is stated as: “It is the policy and objective of the Congress to use the patent system to promote the utilization of inventions arising from federally supported research or development.” Thus, universities, just like federal laboratories, were given ownership to patentable public-sector funded technologies. Obviously, the venue for the research is at the university, and patents have been the mechanism of choice to evaluate the effectiveness of the Act. Link and van Hasselt (2019) question the appropriateness of using patents over time to test the effectiveness of the Act, but neither Link and van Hasselt nor other researchers, to the best of my knowledge, have studied university publications stemming from public-sector funded research.

  12. 12.

    Detailed histories of the SBIR program are in Schacht (2010), Link and Scott (2012), and Leyden and Link (2015).

  13. 13.

    See, See Link and Scott (2012) for a discussion of the rewording of this mission statement.

  14. 14.

    This is an overly simplified eligibility statement. More details about eligibility are at,

  15. 15.

    Eleven departments and agencies participate in the SBIR program. See,

  16. 16.

    See, At this same site, a Phase I program is defined as: “The objective of Phase I is to establish the technical merit, feasibility, and commercial potential of the proposed R/R&D efforts and to determine the quality of performance of the small business awardee organization prior to providing further Federal support in Phase II. SBIR Phase I awards normally do not exceed $150,000 total costs for 6 months.” A Phase III is often discussed with regard to the SBIR program, but it is not a research phase that is supported by the SBIR program. “The objective of Phase III, where appropriate, is for the small business to pursue commercialization objectives resulting from the Phase I/II R/R&D activities. The SBIR program does not fund Phase III. In some Federal agencies, Phase III may involve follow-on non-SBIR funded R&D or production contracts for products, processes or services intended for use by the U.S. Government.”

  17. 17.


  18. 18.

    Publication data from the 2011 and 2014 NSF surveys were not made available from the NRC for this study.

  19. 19.

    The date of each publication is not available in the NRC database.

  20. 20.

    Based on SBIR award data over the years 1992 through 2010, 16.1% of applications for Phase I projects received an award. Of those projects, 81.9% submitted a Phase II proposal but only 51.4% received an award. See,

  21. 21.

    Complementing the Bloom et al. examples, Link and Scott (2019a, 2019b, p.7) report, using data specific to the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST, a federal laboratory within the Department of Commerce) that there has been over time a “negative rate of change in the shift factor that captures technological change in the knowledge production function [of scholarly publications] is consistent with the prediction of de Solla Price (1963) there would be a breakdown in the overall process of creating new science as science inevitably ceases its exponential growth.”

  22. 22.

    Conspicuously absent from the list of project and firm characteristics are two variables. The first variable is the amount of the Phase II award. Information on the Phase II award is only available in the 2005 survey. Separate models were estimated only using the Phase II projects from the 2005 survey. The estimated coefficient on the award amount variable was not statistically significant, and the estimated coefficients on the other variables mirror those reported below. These results are available from the author on request. The second variable is a measure of the educational background of the principal investigator. Unfortunately, that variables is not in the NRC database.

  23. 23.

    The initial study of publications and the academic background of SBIR-funded firms with academic founders is by Link and Rhum (2011).

  24. 24.

    See Goel and Saunoris (2017) for an example of knowledge flows, a broader concept than knowledge transfer and of more general importance, to patenting behavior at the state level.


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Correspondence to Albert N. Link.

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This paper has benefitted from helpful comments and suggestions from Michael Hall (NIST), Martijn van Hasselt (University of North Carolina at Greensboro), Chris Hayter (Arizona State University), and John Scott (Dartmouth College). Any remaining shortcomings are my own.

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Link, A.N. Knowledge transfers from federally supported R&D. Int Entrep Manag J 17, 249–260 (2021).

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  • Technology transfer
  • Public sector R&D
  • Entrepreneurship
  • Program evaluation
  • SBIR program

JEL codes

  • H54
  • L26
  • O31
  • O32
  • O38