The uptake of open science resources in industry: reality or wishful thinking?
by Angela Fessl, Katharina Maitz, Najko Jahn
Spurring growth and innovation in industry is a key goal of policy-makers. A commonly stated advantage of Open Science is greater return on investment for funders, as results are made re-usable to industry. According to the EC’s Directorate-General for Research and Innovation, for instance, “Open Access to research results [is] the springboard for increased innovation opportunities, for instance by enabling more science-based start-ups to emerge.”1 Are Open Science resources actually being taken up by industry, though? Recognising that studies to date in this area were scarce2, ON-MERRIT set out to investigate how far small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and industry actors take up Open Access publications, open data, etc., and to what extent these resources are integrated into their working environments, drivers and barriers in this context, as well as impacts on technological inventions.
Our investigations were conducted in two phases. In Phase I, we conducted a literature review about the information seeking behaviour as well as the current uptake of OS resources in SMEs and industries. In Phase II, we followed two research streams in parallel: First, we conducted an interview study followed by a questionnaire study to get insights about uptake of OS resources at first hand. Second, we investigated the extent to which openly available scientific work influences technological innovations and patents.
Information seeking behaviour and Open Science uptake in industry
A commonly stated advantage of OS resources when being made accessible to a wide range of societal actors is that their uptake can result in a greater return on investment for SMEs and industries. The question here is, if Open Science resources are already used by SMEs and industry.
In Phase I of our research, we addressed this question by semi-systematically summarizing the evidence to date. To do so, we conducted a landscape scan of research regarding SMEs and industry and the uptake of OS resources reviewing existing literature on two topics: the information seeking behaviour and the uptake of OS resources within SMEs and industry.
Our results show that finding relevant resources is a crucial step in recognizing and assimilating new external information, and although there are many ways to look for information (e.g. online search engines or up-to-date libraries at universities, etc.), finding relevant information is not as easy as one might think. Common barriers in this regard are difficulties in explicating information needs for finding relevant information; lack of time; and concerns regarding the quality of the content found. Another often mentioned barrier is the accessibility to information. Although recent studies have highlighted how searching for information on the internet has become ubiquitous, personal and social contacts still play an important role.
Further findings regarding the information-seeking behaviour among industrial actors indicate that research outputs currently play a somewhat peripheral role in general. The evidence we collected points to a general lack of information-seeking skills amongst employees - and exploiting scientific resources for commercial ends requires skills specific to the subject area. Companies commonly acquire these skills by either hiring graduates or directly collaborating with academia. Open Access to research insights can provide efficiency gains (i.e. time and cost savings associated with accessing research) for SMEs and industries, as well as can enable the development of new products, services, and companies, by lowering the barriers for companies of all sizes (from large firms to start-ups) to accessing basic research.
Drivers and barriers to uptake of Open Science resources in industry
In the first research stream of Phase II, we wanted to deepen our finding of Phase I.
We continued our investigations regarding the uptake of responsible research and innovation (RRI) and OS in SMEs and industry by conducting an interview study in Austria. The goal of this study was to capture the current state of play in Austrian SMEs and industries in the domains of health, climate and agriculture on the uptake of Open Data/Science and research in industry. We invited different types of stakeholders (e.g. CEOs, heads of departments, etc.) to participate in our interview study. Based on the results gained through these interviews, we set up a questionnaire that we sent out to SMEs and industries situated in our domains of interest across Europe. With the questionnaire we aimed to obtain broader insights across Europe about the current uptake of Open Science resources in SMEs and industries.
Figure 1 summarizes our findings from the interview and the questionnaire studies. In general, the knowledge about Open Science is rather low and to a certain degree related to respondents’ educational backgrounds. We found that people having a university education are more familiar with the concept of Open Science than others. Furthermore, we found that Open Data, Open Access and also Open Source code already play an important role in the respective companies, for example, our interview partners mentioned to use weather data, location data, open source code libraries, or open access publications of the corresponding domains. However, this uptake strongly depends on the characteristics of the companies and the employees background. For example, all our interview partners hold a master’s degree and some also a PhD degree and they worked mostly in start-ups, thus, they need to use OS resources to stay competitive.
Furthermore, we identified general drivers that support the uptake of Open Science resources: i) the employment of people with a university background - as they are more familiar with the concept of Open Science, ii) offering incentives and support for uptake as motivation, iii) offering targeted training to increase uptake - by making employees aware of Open Science and where to find and how to use such information sources, iv) learning from trans- and interdisciplinary cooperations by exchanging information of the uptake or pointing to interesting Open Science resources, and v) exploiting the wisdom of the crowd - especially regarding Open Source code developed by many people. We also identified barriers that hinder the uptake of Open Science resources: i) scarcity of health-related data, ii) licence restrictions for the commercial use of some data sets, iii) the reliability and validation of data, and iv) limited number of Open Access publications and expensive fees for publishing Open Access.
Figure 1: Uptake, Drivers and Barriers for Open Science resources.
The influence of Open Access on innovation and patents
In the second research stream of Phase II, we were interested to which extent openly available scientific work impacts technological inventions. We combined publicly available data sources about patents and scholarly publications to explore the uptake of Open Access to scientific literature cited in patents. With this approach, we expand existing patent citation analysis methodologies in order to provide evidence about the use of Open Access resources in innovation.
Our key observations can be summarized as follows:
Investigating over 22 million patent families3 indexed in Google Patents, we found that around one third were supported by at least one citation to non-patent literature. However, the number of references per patent family can vary considerably across technological sectors and inventor countries, which is in accordance with previous research.
Focusing on scientific articles cited in patents, we found an Open Access citation advantage, suggesting that openly available research articles are more likely to be cited in patents than closed access work (see Figure 2). In line with the general trend, Open Access uptake grew over the years, with nearly half of cited articles published between 2008 and 2020 being openly available. In line with research on both technology-science linkage and Open Access, we found considerable country and subject specific variations. Particularly patents representing inventions from the US and the UK cited disproportionally more often Open Access work.
Finally, we observed that patents cited preprints, not only from the well-established arXiv, which is popular in the Physical and Material Sciences including Engineering. We also found preprints belonging to the Biological and Life Sciences that were disseminated through the bioRxiv and medRxiv. These preprint servers have become a widely used Open Science practice to accelerate communication about COVID-19 research.
Figure 2: Yearly development of openly available scientific non-patent references (SNPR) in comparison to the total indexed in Crossref. Data source: Unpaywall dump from July 2021. Note that only journal articles were investigated. The peak in 2020 in the SNPR Open Access percentage might be due to a data artifact; only a small number of articles from the year 2020 were represented in our sample.
Summing up, our research shows that there are already a lot of things going on in relation to the uptake of Open Science resources in SMEs and industries, however, this uptake depends on the company, its leaders and employees and their (educational) background.
Consequently, there is overall still a need to further investigate how such an uptake can be enhanced and improved beyond the domains investigated above. Taking these drivers and barriers into account, we postulate the following policy recommendations to make scientific results more (re)usable and visible in SMEs as well as industries.
Policy recommendation 1: Make Open Science, its opportunities and benefits more visible, especially outside the university context.
Policy recommendation2: Increase the number of Open Access publications available for all interested stakeholders, especially in domains with no strong tradition in Open Access.
Policy recommendation 3: Improve the evidence-base associated with the linkage between science and innovation by providing comprehensive metadata about patent citations to scientific work as open data.