Policies and patenting to stimulate the biotechnology sector: Evidence from the Netherlands

Peter Van Dongen*, Hester Tak, Eric Claassen

*Corresponding author for this work

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Evidence-based results of innovation policies stimulating the use of academic patents and thereby contributing to the development of economic sectors are scarce. This article describes the effects of a policy instrument (BioPartner programme) to commercialise scientific research during the emerging stage of the biotechnology sector in the Netherlands. From the year 2000, this instrument provided funding for the reimbursement of academic biotechnology patent applications and assistance with the creation of spin-offs. We studied general trends in biotechnology patent applications in the time period between 1990 and 2009 and quantified the appropriation of academic biotechnology patents by the industry. Biotechnology patent classification codes and the PATSTAT database of the European Patent Organisation were used to define and identify all Dutch biotechnology patent applications. Matching the data from these applications with the names of some 65,000 potential Dutch academic inventors and 3,400 Dutch academic patents, we found a net contribution of the policy instrument of approximately 20 per cent of all Dutch biotechnology patent applications. However, the policy instrument did not result in an increase in the overall number of biotechnology patent applications or their use in the sector. Our data suggest that BioPartner contributed to improve the 0business culture using biotechnology patents0 at universities.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)136-147
Number of pages12
JournalScience and Public Policy
Issue number1
Early online date4 Jul 2018
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2019


Figure 1. Theoretical framework on transfer of academic biotechnology patents in the Netherlands. Research funding by (1) MECS = Ministry of Education, Culture and Science, (2) MEA = Ministry of Economic Affairs, and (3) BioPartner. Adapted from Panagopoulos and Carayannis (2013), Van Looij et al. (2011), Geuna and Rossi (2011) and Greenhaulg and Rogers (2010). Note: There is a potential overlap in numbers of patent applications due to classification in more than one patent classification code and filing via multiple application procedures. aWageningen Research Foundation (DLO) and Netherlands Organisation for Applied Scientific Research (TNO). The Technology Foundation STW is a division of the Netherlands Research Council (NWO) which is responsible for the funding of scientific research at universities. STW applies a policy to file patent applications in case companies in the so-called STW user committees have expressed their interest in the commercialisation of the research results. From a legal point of view, these patent applications have been filed by and therefore belong to STW, but they should be considered as a result of scientific research which has been place at universities, usually executed by PhD students. STW’s policy implies that within a certain amount of time either the university or the company will become the legitimate owner of the patent (Idsardi, pers. comm., 2015). Figure 7 shows the number of academic biotechnology patent applications that the universities and STW filed between 1990 and 2009. Here, we found large differences in the number of applications, which can be explained by the patent policies of universities and STW. For example, the University of Leiden filed and appropriated most patent applications as a result of the fact that their TTO applies an IP ownership and licensing policy comparable with most of the universities in the USA. More than 60 per cent of the ‘Leiden’ biotechnology patent applications—once granted—were licensed as research tools to companies or used in public–private partnerships (Smailes, pers. comm., 2014). Figure 7. Biotechnology patent applications (%) filed by Dutch universities and STW [Technology Foundation STW (Dutch research funding organisation)] before (1990–9) (N = 45) and since the start of the BioPartner programme (2000–9) (N = 176).

FundersFunder number
Ministerie van Onderwijs, Cultuur en Wetenschap
Ministry of Economic Affairs


    • biotechnology
    • innovation policy
    • patent application trends
    • spin-offs


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