Nature index measures impact of academic research on innovation

Nature index measures impact of academic research on innovation

The Nature Index 2017 Innovation supplement sheds new light on the impact academic research is having on innovation by examining how research articles from 200 institutions are cited in third party patents.

By looking at patents owned by third parties – informed by and citing academic work – rather than those held by institutions themselves, the influence of research on the development of products and services is exposed. When taken in quantity, patent-to-article citations represent one of the most direct indicators of innovation capacity and effectiveness. This analysis can reveal universities with outsized impact beyond their walls.

The supplement’s tables contain some of the key academic players whose ideas may be shaping tomorrow’s inventions. The top of these tables is occupied by both institutions with global reputations for high-quality research and others whose published work is having a disproportionately high impact relative to their size.

Ranked by a metric developed by The Lens, The Scripps Research Institute in San Diego (1) and Rockefeller University in New York (2) lead the way. Next are the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (3), University of Massachusetts Medical School (4) and The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center (5). Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel (6) is the only non-US institution in the top ten, followed by three US research heavyweights: National Institutes of Health (7), University of California San Francisco (8) and Stanford University (9). Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai is notably placed tenth.

38 of the top 50 institutions by the metric used are from the United States. From the rest of the world, institutions placed first in their countries include University of Strasbourg (16, France), University of Geneva (21, Switzerland), Hangyang University (23, South Korea), University of Dundee (26, United Kingdom) and Karolinska Institute (38, Sweden). From Japan, both Osaka University (31) and RIKEN (39) make the top 50.

David Swinbanks, founder of the Nature Index, said, “This analysis comes at a time when following the transfer of scientific knowledge into industry and the economy is a growing priority for governments and research funding agencies – for them, the need to demonstrate that publicly funded science is being used for society’s benefit is paramount. This innovation supplement is part of a wider effort from the Nature Index – together with partners such as The Lens and Clarivate Analytics, with their own data – to examine new trends in research publishing and its interface with sectors outside of academia.”

“Today’s funders, including federal and state government agencies, want to measure return on investment in research,” notes David Pendlebury, citation analyst at Clarivate Analytics. “With ever more constricted budgets, it’s a value for money concern. More than that, these funders want to optimize their returns over time. For that they need reliable indicators of success or lack of it.” In years past, support for higher education and R&D was expected to pay off eventually, but the inputs, outputs and outcomes of funding were not analyzed directly. Now it is a priority, and assessment of funding outcomes has become a top concern for governments globally.

Innovation cartography

Richard Jefferson, founder of The Lens, said, “By linking published research with patents as an open global public good, we can start mapping the influence and role of academic science in the innovation ecosystem. This is a first step towards ‘innovation cartography’ – rendering the complex process of science- and technology-enabled problem solving (STEPS) transparent. It will enable scientists, investors, businesses and policy makers to make better, evidence-based choices of partnerships and pathways to deliver new products, services and practices for society.”

The Normalized Lens Influence Metric provides a measure of the influence an institution’s research has had on innovation by calculating the citations of research articles in patents owned by third parties, rather than those owned by institutions themselves. The metric has been derived for 200 high performing institutions that appear in the top 100 of at least one of a number of institutional rankings (Nature Index, Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU), Thomson Innovation or the Leiden Ranking).

Nature Index data is also presented for the 200 institutions ranked by The Lens. For the first time, Nature Index data has been normalized against the total research output of an institution in the natural sciences, as indicated by the number of research articles an institution has published in the Web of Science from Clarivate Analytics. This provides a measure for comparing institutions’ output in the index relative to their research capacity, which can then be compared to the normalized Lens Metric that similarly takes into account the scale of the institution’s research.

First launched in November 2014, the Nature Index database tracks the author affiliations of research articles published in a group of 68 high-quality natural science journals, which have been selected by independent panels of active scientists. Responses from over 2,800 individuals to a large-scale survey were used to validate the selections. Springer Nature estimates that these 68 journals account for nearly 30 percent of total citations to natural science journals.

A rolling 12-month window of Nature Index data is made available openly under a Creative Commons license at, allowing users to analyze research outputs from, and collaboration among, 8,000 institutions and 150 countries. On the index website, an institution’s output of articles organized by broad subject area can be viewed across the most recent 12-month period. International and domestic collaborations are shown for each institution. The website also presents annual league tables of institutions and countries going back to 2012. Upon free registration of the website, users are able to plot longitudinal trends in output for institutions and countries, and export raw data for further analysis.

Full tables and more information are available at

[Image: The Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel, the only non-US institution in the top ten]

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