Research funding is a term generally covering any funding for scientific research, in the areas of both “hard” science and technology and social science. The term often connotes funding obtained through a competitive process, in which potential research projects are evaluated and only the most promising receive funding. Such processes, which are run by government, corporations or foundations, allocate scarce funds.
Most research funding comes from two major sources, corporations (through research and development departments) and government (primarily carried out through universities and specialized government agencies; often known as research councils). Some small amounts of scientific research are carried out (or funded) by charitable foundations, especially in relation to developing cures for diseases such as cancer, malaria and AIDS.
Comparatively, in countries with less GDP, such as Portugal and Mexico the industry contribution is significantly lower. The US government spends more than other countries on military R&D, although the proportion has fallen from around 30% in the 1980s to under 20. Government funding for medical research amounts to approximately 36% in the U.S. The government funding proportion in certain industries is higher, and it dominates research in social science and humanities. Similarly, with some exceptions (e.g. biotechnology) government provides the bulk of the funds for basic scientific research
In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, as the pace of technological progress increased before and during the industrial revolution, most scientific and technological research was carried out by individual inventors using their own funds. A system of patents was developed to allow inventors a period of time (often twenty years) to commercialise their inventions and recoup a profit, although in practice many found this difficult. The talents of an inventor are not those of a businessman, and there are many examples of inventors making rather little money from their work whilst others were able to market it.