Policymakers often believe that if something is good, they should provide incentives for more of it. This philosophy is apparent in policies to encourage the commercialization of university technology; local, state, and federal governments are all working to spur universities to bring more inventions to market. Take, for example, the latest federal efforts: a university commercialization prize and a pledge by university administrators to expand their technology commercialization programs.
But incentives aren’t the answer to everything. Pushing universities to commercialize ever more inventions is unproductive because incentives alone don’t make people better at producing valuable inventions.