Most universities in USA have become very sensitive to protecting their intellectual prperty and have built strong departments to make sure that enough faculty members are sensitive to applying for intellectual property protection and then trying to license this to make money. As usually happens, any thing that starts — good or bad — somehow gets copied in most of the rest of the world. So because US universities started doing this many countries are trying to do the same.
In my research area — computer science and information technology — most patents are good for defensive reasons and hence it makes sense for companies to patent their ideas. But it is well known that it is not easy to build companies or products based on your patents or even sue some established company based on that. This is because software — or algorithms — are easily modified and changed and presented as a different idea. Interestingly, even our own technology transfer department told me that they are now being cautious about patenting algorithmic ideas due to cost/reward structure.
Interesting enough the legal people at most universities reviewing contracts and grants to faculty have not realized — though they work under the same office and maybe under the same management — this thing and they still want to argue who will own intellectual property and commercialization rights till researchers get tired and ready to cancel their research projects.
I don’t know how this culture started in USA. Based on my readings — Universities are in the business of knowledge creation, distribution, and dissmination; not in the business of building businesses. I hope some enlightened education administrators see the light and make university’s primary mission of ‘knowledge’ once again primary leaving ‘money’ business as primary to those who are suppose to be in that.