(Pauline Mattsson and Katarina Nordqvist)
The Nobel Prize is among the most well known awards in science, representing excellent research. Since the Nobel discoveries reflect different research cultures and innovation systems globally it serves as an excellent case to study the diffusion of excellent research into innovation. Even though the role of basic scientific research in the innovation process has gained increasing interest during the last decade, systematic studies focusing on “radical discoveries” are rare. Using the Nobel Prize as a proxy for excellent research and looking at the period after the Nobel Prize discovery, this study focus on the dissemination of knowledge and to what extent these discoveries have been commercialized.
With this paper we will further examine the interactions between science and technology and build on the concept of academic “star scientist” developed by Zucker and Darby (2006). Their conclusion was that extraordinarily productive scientists in biotechnology act as both researchers and entrepreneurs and that they not only advance science but also play a key role in successful commercialization. Similarly, Murray (2002) found that innovations in tissue engineering occur through co-evolution of science and technology networks. Meyer (2006) explored the link between patenting and publishing in the field of nano-science and came to the conclusion that patent activity does not have an adverse impact on the publication and citation performance of researchers but rather a positive effect in terms of publication count and citation frequency.
In this paper we are studying Nobel Laureates in medicine over the 35 last years (1978-2013) to further investigate the link between excellence science and commercial activity. In total we collect information about all the 83 Laureates’ involvement in commercial activities over their entire career. We explore to what degree these “star scientist” have been involved in commercial activities by studying patent activity, the involvement in start-up activities and other industry collaborations. We further explore the status of these activities by investigating if the patent application has been granted, has expired, the geographical coverage, whether spin-off companies are still in business or have been acquired and the linkage to industry through consultancy, joint partnership and advisory board. To be able to judge the actual link between excellent research and commercialisation we determine whether patents and/or the spin-off companies are results of the discoveries that were awarded the Nobel Prize since this is the actual acknowledgment of excellence.
With this paper we aim at contributing to the discussion of the impact of science and translational science. The economic crisis has brought increasing light on the discussion how government should balance the support between fundamental or basic and applied research. We believe that the outcomes from this study will provide some evidence that can help policy makers and funders in their work towards supporting the knowledge economy and economic growth.