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AUTM reports increased patent activity in research institutions

December 09, 2021
By: Ashwin Shenoy

The Association of University Technology Managers (AUTM) recently reported findings from its 2020 Licensing Activity Survey. The survey collects self-reported technology transfer activity volumes from universities, hospitals and other non-profit research institutions in the United States. The report highlighted a large increase in the number of patents issued in 2020 relative to 2019, with a growth rate of 15.6 percent. There was less clarity about changes in other metrics, however.

The AUTM survey provides some of the best, accessible data on technology transfer activity, but self-reports have limitations. One consideration is that trends can appear due to both changes in behavior and due to which institutions do (or do not) participate in a given year. In 2020, 10 percent more institutions participated in AUTM’s survey than in 2019. We, therefore, consider year-over-year increases of more than 10 percent as more likely to reflect an increase in tech transfer activity than more modest gains.

The 2020 survey reports a 15.6 percent increase from 2019 to 2020 in the number of U.S. patents that were issued – with a total of 8,706 patents issued in 2020. The number of new patent applications, 17,738 in total, remained relatively constant, rising from 89 per institution to 90.

A record number of 1,117 startups were formed in 2020, an increase (7 percent) that roughly tracked the growth in survey participation. Over the past six years, the number of startups per reporting institution has hovered between five and six. Nearly 69 percent of these startups were based in the home state of the institution.

The number of licenses and options increased to 10,050, which represented a decrease in per-institution metrics from 54 in 2019 to 51 in 2020. The share of licenses to startups increased to about 17 percent, with another 59 percent going to small businesses.

More information on AUTM and the 2020 Licensing Activity Survey can be found here.

tech transfer, higher ed