Springer Nature is making Coronavirus research free. View research | View latest news | Sign up for updates

University-owned and university-invented patents: a network analysis on two Italian universities

  • 675 Accesses

  • 6 Citations


The paper presents results from social network analysis applied to data on patenting of academics inventors employed in two Italian universities (Trieste University and Udine university, both located in Friuli Venezia Giulia region). The aim is to compare the co-invention networks generated by the academic inventors, tenured by one of the two universities, in their patenting activity with several organisations—firms, public research organisations—and in their activity for patents owned by one of the two universities. Results show that, despite the structural similarity, non-marginal differences emerge in the interaction of the two forms of patenting across the two universities. Empirical evidence suggests new research questions related in particular to the role played by the differing university patenting strategies in shaping local networks.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3
Fig. 4


  1. 1.

    However, it should be pointed out that the number of co-patents is relatively limited, probably because co-assignment presents important challenges in terms of appropriability.

  2. 2.

    For instance, the different entrepreneurial behaviours are reflected in the creation of university spinoff companies (that substantially depends on the patenting strategy of the academia). Until 2012, Trieste University had created 15 spinoff firms, compared to 34 by Udine University. The number of Udine’s spinoff companies is the fifth largest among the Italian universities.

  3. 3.

    This argument can be related to a recent extension of geographical proximity, the so-called “systemic proximity” that emerges when economic agents share the same innovation system. Innovation systems create an environment where economic agents use the same formal and informal rules, subject to the same policies and cultural background (Metcalfe 2005).

  4. 4.

    Clustering and blockmodeling optimisation of the partitions have been performed using the Pajek software. http://pajek.imfm.si/doku.php

  5. 5.

    The KEINS database has been produced for the EU-sponsored project on Knowledge-based Entrepreneurship: Innovation, Networks and Systems (KEINS) and contains information on university researchers from France, Italy, and Sweden, who appear as designated inventors on one or more patent application registered at the European Patent Office in the period 1978–2004. See Lissoni et al. (2006) for further details.

  6. 6.

    The International Patent Classification (IPC) is a hierarchical patent classification system used in over 100 countries to classify the content of patents in a uniform manner. http://web2.wipo.int/ipcpub.

  7. 7.

    The full specification of the D06 code is “treatment of textiles or the like; laundering; flexible materials not otherwise provided for”.

  8. 8.

    The dissimilarity d1 between two actors is the (normalised) number of neighbours they do not share (de Nooy et al. 2005).

  9. 9.

    The fractionalisation of co-invention is highly recognised in many studies (see, for instance, Breschi and Catalini 2010).

  10. 10.

    Some of these companies also have operating units based in the Area Science Park, one of the main and more experienced multisector science and technology parks in Italy, which is located in the area of Trieste.


  1. Abramo, G., D’Angelo, C. A., & Solazzi, M. (2010). Assessing public–private research collaboration: is it possible to compare university performance? Scientometrics, 84, 173–197.

  2. Balconi, M., & Laboranti, L. (2006). University–industry interactions in applied research: The case of microelectronics. Research Policy, 35, 1616–1630.

  3. Baldini, N., Grimaldi, R., & Sobrero, M. (2006). Institutional changes and the commercialization of academic knowledge. A study of Italian universities’ patenting activities between 1965 and 2002. Research Policy, 35, 518–532.

  4. Barirani, A., Agard, B., & Beaudry, C. (2013). Discovering and assessing fields of expertise in nanomedicine: A patent co-citation network perspective. Scientometrics, 94, 1111–1136.

  5. Benedetti, G., De Stefano, D., & Salera, A. (2011) Non solo entrate: il percorso della conoscenza attraverso i conti terzi delle Università di Trieste e Udine, DEAMS Working Papers series, n.2/2011.

  6. Boschma, R. A. (2005). Proximity and innovation: A critical assessment. Regional Studies, 39(1), 61–74.

  7. Breschi, M., & Catalini, C. (2010). Tracing the links between science and technology: An exploratory analysis of scientists’ e inventors’ networks. Research Policy, 39, 14–26.

  8. Breschi, S., & Lissoni, F. (2009). Mobility of skilled workers and co-invention networks: An anatomy of localized knowledge flows. Journal of Economic Geography, 9, 439–468.

  9. Cowan, R., & Jonard, R. (2003). The dynamics of collective invention. Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, 52, 513–532.

  10. De Nooy, W., Mrvar, A., & Batagelj, V. (2005). Exploratory social network analysis with Pajek. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  11. De Stefano, D., Fuccella, V., Vitale, M. P., & Zaccarin, S. (2013). The use of different data sources in the analysis of co-authorship networks and scientific performance. Social Networks, 35, 370–381.

  12. De Stefano, D., & Zaccarin, S. (2013). Modelling multiple interactions in science and technology networks. Industry and Innovation, 20, 221–240.

  13. Doreian, P., Batagelj, V., & Ferligoj, A. (2004). Generalized Blockmodeling. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  14. Èrdi, P., Makovi, K., Somogyvári, Z., Strandburg, K., Tobochnik, J., Volf, P., et al. (2013). Prediction of emerging technologies based on analysis of the US patent citation network. Scientometrics, 95, 225–242.

  15. Etzkowitz, H., & Leydesdorff, L. (1997). Introduction: Universities in the global knowledge economy. In H. Etzkowitz & L. Leydesdorff (Eds.), Universities and the global knowledge economy: A triple helix of university–industry–government relations (pp. 1–8). London: Pinter.

  16. Faust, K., & Wasserman, S. (1992). Blockmodels: Interpretation and evaluation. Social Networks, 14(1), 5–61.

  17. Fleming, L., King, C., & Juda, A. I. (2007). Small worlds and regional innovation. Organization Science, 18, 938–954.

  18. Geuna, A. (2001). The changing rationale for European University research funding: Are there negative unintended consequences. Journal of Economic Issues, 35, 607–632.

  19. Geuna, A., & Nesta, L. (2006). University patenting and its effects on academic research: The emerging European evidence. Research Policy, 35, 790–807.

  20. Geuna, A., & Rossi, F. (2011). Changes to university IPR regulations in Europe and the impact on academic patenting. Research Policy, 40, 1068–1076.

  21. Gould, R. V., & Fernandez, R. M. (1989). Structures of mediation: A formal approach to brokerage in transaction networks. Sociological Methodology, 19, 89–126.

  22. Leydesdorff, L., & Meyer, M. (2003). The triple helix of university–industry–government relations. Scientometrics, 58, 191–203.

  23. Leydesdorff, L., & Meyer, M. (2007). The scientometrics of a triple helix of university–industry–government relations. Scientometrics, 70, 207–222.

  24. Lissoni, F. (2010). Academic inventors as brokers. Research Policy, 39, 843–857.

  25. Lissoni, F. (2012). Academic patenting in Europe: An overview of recent research and new perspectives. World Patent Information, 34, 197–205.

  26. Lissoni, F., Llerena, P., & Sanditov, B. (2011). Small worlds in networks of inventors and the role of science: An analysis of france. Bureau d’économie theorique et appliquée. Documents de travail, 33, 2011–2018.

  27. Lissoni, F., Sanditov, B., Sanditov, B., & Tarasconi, G. (2006). The Keins database on academic inventors: Methodology and contents. CESPRI working paper 181. Milan: Università L. Bocconi.

  28. Maggioni, M. A., Nosvelli, M., & Uberti, T. E. (2007). Space versus networks in the geography of innovation: A European analysis. Papers in Regional Science, 86, 471–493.

  29. Metcalfe, J. S. (2005). Systems failure and the case for innovation policy. In P. Llerena & M. Matt (Eds.), Innovation policy in a knowledge based economy (pp. 47–74). Berlin: Springer.

  30. Meyer, M. (2006). Knowledge integrators or weak links? An exploratory comparison of patenting researchers with their non-inventing peers in nanoscience and technology. Scientometrics, 68, 545–560.

  31. Meyer, M., Du Plessis, M., Tukeva, T., & Utecht, J. (2005). Inventive output of academic research: A comparison of two science systems. Scientometrics, 63, 145–161.

  32. Meyer-Krahmer, F., & Schmock, U. (1998). Science-based technologies: University–industry interactions in four fields. Research Policy, 27, 835–851.

  33. Muscio, A. (2009). What drives the university use of technology transfer offices? Evidence from Italy. The Journal of Technology Transfer, 35, 181–202.

  34. Ramos-Vielba, I., Fernandez-Esquinas, M., & Espinosa-de-los-Montero, E. (2010). Measuring university–industry collaboration in a regional innovation system. Scientometrics, 84, 649–667.

  35. Rothaermel, F. T., Agung, S. D., & Jiang, L. (2007). University entrepreneurship: A taxonomy of the literature. Industrial and Corporate Change, 16, 691–791.

  36. Stephan, P. E. (2010). Handbook of the economics of innovation. In B. H. Hall & N. Rosenberg (Eds.), The economics of science (Vol. 1, pp. 217–273).

  37. Ter Wal, A. L. J., & Boschma, R. A. (2009). Applying social network analysis in economic geography: Framing some key analytic issues. The Annals of Regional Science, 43, 739–756.

  38. Uzzi, B., Amaral, L. N., & Reed-Tsochas, F. (2007). Small-world networks and management science research: A review. European Management Review, 4, 77–91.

  39. Verspagen, B. (2005). Mapping technological trajectories as patent citation networks. A study on the history of fuel cell research. Maastricht: Merit Research Paper.

  40. Von Proff, S., & Dettmann, A. (2013). Inventor collaboration over distance: A comparison of academic and corporate patents. Scientometrics, 94, 1217–1238.

Download references


This paper was financially supported by the project “Analisi statistica di dati relazionali: aspetti metodologici e applicazioni a reti di diffusione della conoscenza”, funded by the “Università degli Studi di Trieste - Finanziamento per Ricercatori di Ateneo2011″ and by the P.O.R. 2007/2013 FSE Project S.H.A.R.M. “Supporting Human Assets in Research and Mobility”, Azione 1.1, promoted by the “Consorzio per l’AREA di ricerca scientifica e tecnologica di Trieste”. We would like to thank the anonymous referees for their useful and valuable comments.

Author information

Correspondence to Domenico De Stefano.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Capellari, S., De Stefano, D. University-owned and university-invented patents: a network analysis on two Italian universities. Scientometrics 99, 313–329 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11192-013-1211-5

Download citation


  • Academic patenting
  • Science-industry linkages
  • Social network analysis
  • Blockmodeling
  • Brokerage