By Sergio Ferrer

In the last decade, scientific production in Spanish universities has experienced a rapid increase, as is evident from the 112% increase in the number of publications in scientific journals and 130% growth in the level of patents generated. This is the main conclusion of the IUNE Observatory's analysis conducted with data from 48 public and 26 private centers in the country between 2003 and 2012. In all, more than 300,000 scientific articles have been collected in the Web of Science (WoS) database and there have been more than 3000 patents.

These figures imply that the productivity of researchers has nearly doubled as this has increased from 0.39 papers per researcher in 2003 to 0.73 in 2012. Spain is ranked as the tenth country in the world for scientific production, according to data from 2013 provided by the SCImago Journal&Country Rank. According to the general coordinator of the IUNE Observatory, Elias Sanz-Casado, "not only has production increased but also quality."

Improving scientific knowledge is a value in itself, but furthermore, when it is transformed into practical applications through patents, the competitiveness and innovation of a country improves. Spanish universities have contributed to this as has been shown by the increase of 200 patents granted in 2003 to nearly 500 in 2012. This increase has been driven by technical universities, with the Polytechnic University of Catalonia being the leader, which had an average of 26 patents per year during the period studied.

"Poor" growth

The Polytechnic University of Valencia is in second place, which announced this month that a new patent had been granted for charging cell phones remotely. But despite its leading position in the ranking, the professor and director of the Group of Wave Phenomena responsible for the progress, José Sánchez-Dehesa, sees growth in university patenting as still being "poor" compared with other countries.

Academic patents represent only 17% of the total granted in Spain. According to The 2013 patent system study conducted by the Online Business School, it is individuals and companies who are driving this type of progress. Both sectors achieved over 1,200 awards each in 2013, compared with the 468 awarded to academic centers. Nevertheless, the researcher argues that, although the percentage "is low", universities are increasingly placing more importance on patents.

The general coordinator of IUNE Observatory believes a paradigm shift in research is required, where more importance will be given to patents. "They don't have the same recognition as a publication in a prestigious journal," he says. The researcher considers it to be a "serious problem" because many researchers “prefer publishing to patenting."

The data of the analysis show, according to Sanz-Casado, a "small plateau" in production in recent years, which will suffer a "deceleration" in the future "because of cut backs."

A report conducted by RedOTRIshows that in 2011 Spanish educational centers received a revenue of 1 billion euros through these licenses. By contrast, R&D expenditure was over 3.2 billion euros during the same year. The researcher believes that "not all knowledge generated is patentable", so only research that has a commercial future should be intellectually protected.

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