Evidence from Patents and Patent Citations on the Impact of NASA and Other Federal Labs on Commercial Innovation
We explore the commercialization of government-generated technology by analyzing patents awarded to the U.S. government and the citations to those patents from subsequent patents. We use information on citations to federal patents in two ways: (1) to compare the average technological impact of NASA patents, other Federal' patents, and a random sample of all patents using measures of importance' and generality;' and (2) to trace the geographic location of commercial development by focusing on the location of inventors who cite NASA and other federal patents. We find, first, that the evidence is consistent with increased effort to commercialize federal lab technology generally and NASA specifically. The data reveal a striking NASA golden age' during the second half of the 1970s which remains a puzzle. Second, spillovers are concentrated within a federal lab complex of states representing agglomerations of labs and companies. The technology complex links five NASA states through patent citations: California, Texas, Ohio, DC/Virginia-Maryland, and Alabama. Third, qualitative evidence provides some support for the use of patent citations as proxies for both technological impact and knowledge spillovers.