data are limited in that they reflect patenting behavior only during a recent 2-year period. Nevertheless, they suggest that federally sponsored research—especially that conducted at universities—continues to contribute to innovation in computing even as the computer industry has grown.


As this chapter demonstrates, the federal government has played an important role in helping to create the research infrastructure needed to support the nation's computing industry. The federal government became the primary source of funding for university research in computer science and electrical engineering and for research equipment in these disciplines. It also became the primary supporter of graduate students studying—and conducting research—in these fields. Such support complemented industry's efforts to build the much larger industrial infrastructure needed for successful innovation in computing and industry's contributions to public infrastructure (through equipment grants, tuition reimbursement, and sponsored research). Together, these investments created a publicly available pool of resources for others to draw upon. As subsequent chapters of this report describe in more detail, people with ideas and training made possible by public investments in research infrastructure helped staff the information revolution, disseminate its ideas, and chart its course. As part of the larger innovation process, they helped the nation to establish a dominant position in the international market for computing technology and to enjoy resulting social and economic benefits.


  • 1.  

    In aircraft, the government established the National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics in 1915 to address both instrumentation and generic design in the form of a wind tunnel and the design of an aerodynamic foil or wing. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration continues to play a role in aeronautics research. The former U.S. Bureau of Standards, now the National Institute of Standards and Technology, has undertaken much research in developing scientific and technical standards in the fields of metallurgy, optics, and electronics, as well as in computing hardware and software.

  • 2.  

    The definitions of computer science and electrical engineering used in this report derive from those used by the National Science Foundation (NSF) in its surveys of federal research expenditures. See NSF (1997a).

  • 3.  

    NSF defines basic research as research in which "the objective of the sponsoring agency is to gain more complete knowledge or understanding of the fundamental aspects of phenomena and of observable facts, without specific applications toward processes or products in mind." It defines applied research as work

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