This article by Piccaluga and Patrono represents an attempt to collect and discuss data about patents held by Italian public research centres. More precisely, European (EPO) and US (USPTO) patents assigned in the period 1982-2001 are taken into account. The paper also includes a survey among inventors who were asked information about the patenting process and about possibile licensing initiatives. Results indicate that patenting activity by this kind of institutions is slowly growing in Italy, although a faster increase for the next future can be expected. Italian public research centres account for almost 400 European and US patents in the 1982-2001 period, but licensing activity is very scarse. This can be attributed to bureaucratic difficulties and to the fact that a "licensing culture" is relatively recent in Italian public institutions, and as a consequence specific offices and human resources have been dedicated to this issue only in a few, albeit relevant cases. On the whole, it seems that the future in this field will present very interesting economic opportunities, relevant decisions about the orientation of scientific research, as well as new organisation procedures and structures. Undoubtedly, public research centres will have to take into account both the acquisition of the literature about the new economics of science and the best managerial practices available in the field of technology management.