cal reasons, it should be interpreted with caution. Both papers’ authors refrain from causal inferences or speculation about what lies behind their observations. Do investigators in fact know that a patent has issued? At least for academic researchers, this seems unlikely in view of the survey evidence that they neither search for patents nor respond to notices to pay attention to potential infringement. If they become aware of patents, do they cease working in an area or continue working but cite other research? In industry, where there is little premium on publication, the legal department often reviews external publications and may withhold them to avoid provoking patentees. In either case the effect, if real, may be more on publication and citation behavior than on research conduct. The effect, if real, ultimately may be more on citation behavior than on research conduct.


In the meantime, the Walsh et al. survey turned up evidence of a more immediate and potentially remediable burden on research, private as well as public, stemming from difficulties in accessing proprietary research materials, patented or unpatented. Conflicts arising from scientific as well as commercial competition have to be addressed in addition to simply the burden and cost of providing such materials. Concern over the flow of research materials, which may be critical inputs for the success of a research project, is not new. Nor has it gone unaddressed; the NIH research tool guidelines address the process of materials exchanges, and NIH has developed a model Material Transfer Agreement (MTA).

The survey found that impediments to the exchange of biomedical research materials remain prevalent and may be increasing. For the period 1997 to 1999, Campbell and colleagues (2002) reported on the basis of a previous survey that academic genomics researchers denied 10 percent of material transfer requests. In the Walsh et al. study, the comparable number for 2003-2004 is 18 percent (95 percent confidence interval: +/− 3.7 percent). Other pertinent findings were as follows:

  • Requests for material transfers between and within the industrial and academic sectors are widespread, although not of high frequency. About 60 percent of industry respondents and 75 percent of academic respondents initiated at least one request in the last two years. Approximately 40 percent of industry respondents and 69 percent of academic scientists had received such a request in the same period. Rates of initiation and receipt of requests are about the same for those doing drug discovery and those doing basic research.

  • Between 7 percent (suppliers’ estimate) and 18 percent (consumers’ estimate) of university to university requests are denied. Typically, approximately half of respondents have had at least one request denied over a two-year period.

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