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Evidence-Based Healthcare

Patenting of University and Non-University Public Research Organisations in Germany: Evidence from Patent Applications for Medical Research Results
Published: Thursday, November 18, 2010
Author: Peter Tinnemann et al.

by Peter Tinnemann, Jonas Ă–zbay, Victoria A. Saint, Stefan N. Willich


Patents are one of the most important forms of intellectual property. They grant a time-limited exclusivity on the use of an invention allowing the recuperation of research costs. The use of patents is fiercely debated for medical innovation and especially controversial for publicly funded research, where the patent holder is an institution accountable to public interest. Despite this controversy, for the situation in Germany almost no empirical information exists. The purpose of this study is to examine the amount, types and trends of patent applications for health products submitted by German public research organisations.

Methods/Principal Findings

We conducted a systematic search for patent documents using the publicly accessible database search interface of the German Patent and Trademark Office. We defined keywords and search criteria and developed search patterns for the database request. We retrieved documents with application date between 1988 and 2006 and processed the collected data stepwise to compile the most relevant documents in patent families for further analysis. We developed a rationale and present individual steps of a systematic method to request and process patent data from a publicly accessible database. We retrieved and processed 10194 patent documents. Out of these, we identified 1772 relevant patent families, applied for by 193 different universities and non-university public research organisations. 827 (47%) of these patent families contained granted patents. The number of patent applications submitted by universities and university-affiliated institutions more than tripled since the introduction of legal reforms in 2002, constituting almost half of all patent applications and accounting for most of the post-reform increase. Patenting of most non-university public research organisations remained stable.


We search, process and analyse patent applications from publicly accessible databases. Internationally mounting evidence questions the viability of policies to increase commercial exploitation of publicly funded research results. To evaluate the outcome of research policies a transparent evidence base for public debate is needed in Germany.