The International Consortium on Agricultural Biotechnology Research (ICABR)

Non technical abstract

What is Different About Ag-Biotech? An Investigation of University Patenting

Jeremy D. Foltz 
Dept. of Agricultural and Resource Economics University of Connecticut
1367 Storrs Rd., Unit-4021
Storrs CT 06269-4021
Phone: (860) 486-2838
Fax: (860) 486-1932


While new agricultural biotechnologies, ag-biotech, have received a lot of press about how they are changing the paradigms of university research they still represent only a small part of the research output of agricultural colleges. Ag-biotech is seen as being different than other university agricultural technology research, “ag-tech,” because of it having intellectual property rights, more industry linkages, and being more commercially oriented. The annual number of ag-biotech patents issued to universities grew from 25 to 30 per year in the late 1980s, to over 150 per year in the mid to late 1990s, and appears likely to continue growing at a very rapid rate.  At the same time, the number of other agricultural patents, "ag-tech", has also grown, though not as spectacularly, from 25 to 30 in the late 1980's to 50 or 60 per year in the late 1990's.  Despite this growth, ag-biotech patenting by universities remains relatively small in the overall research production of universities, and for some universities ag-tech patenting remains more important than ag-biotech.


This work seeks to understand the differences in patenting between ag-biotech and other agricultural technologies, ag-tech.  It seeks to answer the question: is ag-biotech different from other agricultural research in terms of patent production or patent quality?  It does so by estimating the difference (if any) between ag-biotech patents and ag-tech patents as measured by (i) different parameters in their production functions and (ii) different levels of patent quality as measured by numbers of citations of those patents.


The first model uses a panel count data technique to estimate a production function for each type of patent (ag-biotech and ag-tech) using the same independent variables and then performs statistical tests (both jointly and individually) on differences in parameters between the two different patent types. The second model of this paper estimates an equation describing patent quality as measured by the number of citations.


            The evidence presented here suggests that a lot more similarities than differences exist between the two types of university patents.  The significant variables in the ag-biotech and ag-tech production functions are similar, though the estimates show some subtle differences.  The citation estimates show no evidence that ag-biotech is more important than ag-tech, in terms of how often it is cited.  Similarly there is no evidence that patents in fields with more patenting are more heavily cited than patents in fields with fewer patents.  No relationship was found between business co-ownership and citations, but a patents jointly owned by USDA had lower citation levels. 


In sum, these results suggest that future research on agricultural patenting at universities should focus less on ag-biotech and more on all types of university agricultural research.  The focus on ag-biotech recently may have blinded researchers and, perhaps, administrators to the potential of standard agricultural technologies as compared to agricultural biotechnology.

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