2006/20 LEM Working Paper Series

Reflections on ''The Simple Economics of Basic Research'':
Looking Back and Looking Forwards

Richard R. Nelson
Basic research, Science, Public Domain, Patenting, Bayh-Dole

Many of the points argued in this old paper have withstood the tests of time. The economic contribution of basic research is to enable or facilitate downstream invention. The range of inventions that may be facilitated by basic research is unpredictable, but often large. For these reasons, it is desirable that the results of basic research be in the public domain rather than being patented. One major point has turned out not to be fully true. In some cases the results of basic research can be and have been patented. The heart of this essay is an exploration of the problems that have been caused in recent years by the patenting of basic research results, and a consideration of the policy options and appropriate responses.

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