Oct 26

Bryan School professor explores economic impacts of innovation

The business of education is, naturally, knowledge transfer. For Dr. Albert Link, Virginia Batte Phillips Distinguished Professor, that goal has been met on an international basis since joining the Department of Economics at the Bryan School of Business and Economics 38 years ago.

From guiding the development of research parks around the globe and counseling Eastern European science leaders on the economics of innovation policies, to expanding the International Space Station’s commercialization efforts, Link has parlayed his interest in the economics of research and development into becoming a trusted expert in determining how innovation can influence economic growth.

Link was inspired to investigate entrepreneurship, technology, and innovation policy, the economics of research and development, and policy/program evaluation as a doctoral student at Tulane University. While there, he read a 1957 article by Nobel laureate Robert Solow that showed 87.5 percent of aggregate economic growth from 1909 to 1949 in the United States could not be explained by the growth of traditional economic inputs.

“It occurred to me that advances in technology and innovation might explain part of this previously unexplained growth,” Link says. “My dissertation addressed this issue theoretically and empirically, and the National Science Foundation was interested in my research and funded it continuously from 1980 through 2010. My focus evolved from the study of R&D (research and development) in U.S. firms to public policies to support future R&D, to evaluate methods to quantify the economic impacts of innovations coming from R&D, to international comparisons of innovative activities and attendant policies.”

A FREQUENTLY PUBLISHED AUTHOR AND PROUD ADVISOR

More funding quickly followed, including a research grant to document the history of Research Triangle Park. That 10-year project resulted in a two-volume history of the Park and the effort spawned additional research into science and technology research parks around the world.

In 2018, he was privileged to give the European Commission Distinguished Scholar Lecture at the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre in Seville, Spain.

“My lecture was the keynote to an international conference on science and technology parks,” he says.

Just prior to the European Conference, he helped his three graduate students present their research related to science and technology parks at the annual Technology Transfer Society conference in Washington, D.C.

“I was proud beyond words of how accomplished each was, not only in presentation poise but also in their ability to handle the multitude of questions from the audience,” Link says.

Link’s newest book, “Technology Transfer and US Public Sector Innovation,” is a capstone of his interest and previous work on U.S. technology policies, namely policies to encourage the transfer of technologies developed in U.S. federal laboratories to the private sector through patent licensing.

“The decision to write this book coincided with the interest of an exceptional former graduate student from our Economics Department. Having the opportunity to work with him on this project was a remarkable experience,” Link says. “The book is important because it documents some of the returns to public money that funds the R&D activity in federal laboratories.”

He has written a sequel, “Invention, Innovation, and U.S. Federal Laboratories,” which is scheduled to be published in January 2021.

Link has published more than 50 books. He explains that economics is a discipline where journal articles are the primary vehicle through which faculty share their research findings. He enjoys writing, and says that as his career progressed, it became harder and harder to “tell a story in 7,000 to 10,000 words.”

Always willing to share his knowledge and encourage research in the subjects he loves, Link also serves as editor-in-chief of the Journal of Technology Transfer, co-editor of Foundations and Trends in Entrepreneurship, and founder/editor of Annals of Science and Technology Policy. He enjoys these roles, as they offer opportunities to see a large volume of research prior to publication and, along with his editorial boards, to have some professional influence on the direction that research is moving.

A VOICE FOR NATIONAL AND INTERNATIONAL ENTREPRENEURS

In spite of his many accomplishments and a stellar career in research, teaching, and writing, Link is still surprised when he is tapped to provide insight at home or abroad. Such was the case in 2007, when he was unexpectedly approached by an administrator from the State Department to serve as the U.S. Representative to the United Nations (Geneva) in the capacity of co-vice chairperson of the Team of Specialists on Innovation and Competitiveness Policies Initiative for the U.N. Economic Commission for Europe.

“My duties involved periodic trips to the U.N. in Geneva, but mostly I was writing and responding to documents related to how Eastern European countries might use technology to stimulate their economy,” he says. “My guess and this is just a guess, is that I was approached because of my 2006 book ‘Public/Private Partnerships: Innovation Strategies and Policy Alternatives.’”

Because of his background in research and development, program evaluation, and small entrepreneurial firms, Link was asked to be a part of the National Research Council’s research team that conducted the 2008 reauthorization evaluation of the U.S. Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program. The SBIR program funds small, often entrepreneurial, firms to conduct research into the development of new technologies.

“I was privileged to testify before Congress in support of continued funding for the program,” Link says. “I emphasized that firms do commercialize from their SBIR projects, which is the objective of the program, but they add very few if any new employees when doing so.”

Link is still researching aspects of the SBIR program with his colleagues in the Bryan School Economics Department. One project that currently underway looks at nature versus nurture characteristics of principal investigators on those funded projects, and the relationship between nature or nurture and the success of the projects. Link regularly weaves what he learned from each of the many roles and experiences he has had into his research methods and teaching strategies. He evolves his methods and messaging to reflect national and global trends and impactful events to ensure students are prepared to study and practice economics in the real world.

In April, as he prepared an exam for his undergraduate technology policy class, he included a question prompting students to discuss the impact of COVID-19 on two U.S. technology policies, the Bayh-Dole Patent and Trademark Amendments Act of 1980 and the Stevenson-Wydler Technology Innovation Act of 1980. Link will soon be sharing his own thoughts on the matter.

“I will be writing on this topic because COVID-19 has dramatic implications for how research from universities and federal laboratories will lead to new technologies that will stimulate economic growth,” he said.