University patenting has been heralded as a symbol of changing relations between universities and their social environments. The Bayh–Dole Act of 1980 in the USA was eagerly promoted by the OECD as a recipe for the commercialization of university research, and the law was imitated by a number of national governments. However, since the 2000s university patenting in the most advanced economies has been on the decline both as a percentage and in absolute terms. In addition to possible saturation effects and institutional learning, we suggest that the institutional incentives for university patenting have disappeared with the new regime of university ranking. Patents and spin-offs are not counted in university rankings. In the new arrangements of university–industry–government relations, universities have become very responsive to changes in their relevant environments.