Both Sides Agree: Undermining Bayh-Dole Will Have Tragic Consequences for Innovation

“This is not a partisan issue, but rather an American one. The Bayh-Dole Act is an important legislative tool that, when properly harnessed, can help the United States continue to achieve impressive milestones.”

Bayh-DoleIn 1945, American engineer and the first Director of The Office of Scientific Research and Development, Vannevar Bush, published a famous report, Science and The Endless Frontier, which stated that “scientific progress is one essential key to our security as a nation, to our better health, to more jobs, to a higher standard of living, and to our cultural progress.”

However, scientific progress could not be achieved until a streamlined patent system that incentivized and rewarded inventors was created.

Years later, in 1980, the late Senators Birch Bayh (D-IN) and Bob Dole (R-KS), crossed partisan lines to author a bill that promoted innovation and unlocked the capabilities of the United States. Back in those days, people still worked together in Washington, DC. Senators Bayh and Dole created a uniform patent policy among federal agencies, including allowing universities to retain ownership of inventions made that used federally funded research. In 1978, two years before the final Senate vote, Senator Bayh passionately advocated for policy addressing technology transfer between universities and the private sector. He said:

“A wealth of scientific talent at American colleges and universities…is going to waste as a result of bureaucratic red tape and illogical government regulations…Unless private industry has the protection of some exclusive use under patent or license agreements, they cannot afford the risk of commercialization expenditures. As a result, many new developments resulting from government research are left idle.”

His words were well heeded as the Senate unanimously approved an amendment including the language of the Bayh-Dole Act.

Twenty two years later, in 2002, The Economist published the following:

“Possibly the most inspired piece of legislation to be enacted in America over the past half-century was the Bayh-Dole act of 1980… More than anything, this single policy measure helped to reverse America’s precipitous slide into industrial irrelevance.”

We Can’t Afford to Be Naïve

This excerpt illustrates the impact Bayh-Dole has had on influencing the technological and economic future of the United States. Ironically, at the time, the law’s future impact and magnitude wasn’t fully appreciated. The day after its enactment, the New York Times only mentioned the initiative briefly on page 38, buried five paragraphs into an article about patents. Clearly, its potential was overlooked. Yet, a similar naïveté is currently influencing the Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) and the Department of Commerce’s (DOC) plan. The Biden-Harris Administration is trying to reinterpret the Bayh-Dole Act to authorize federal control over prices of inventions originating from universities. This could have devastating consequences. The Bayh-Dole Act was specifically designed to spur innovation and collaboration between our universities and the private sector. Forty years later, the results speak for themselves.  In 1980, only 23 institutions had technology transfer options. Today, every single major research institution in the United States has a technology transfer option. By 1980, there were 30,000 patents acquired using federally funded research, resulting in only 1,500 improved products. In 2020 alone, 27,112 disclosures were filed, resulting in 8,706 patents.

The recent actions from the Biden Administration threaten this innovation. By controlling prices, incentives can be distorted, and further development can be disrupted. This is a rare opportunity for Democrats and Republicans to work together to boost American industry.

A Rare Instance of Congress Coming Together

In February, Senators Chris Coons (D-DE) and Thom Tillis (R-NC) came together with Representatives Darrell Issa (R-CA) and Jake Auchincloss (D-MA) to co-sign a letter to President Biden urging him to reconsider his attempt to undo the great benefits of the Bayh-Dole Act.

This letter was a tremendous feat as it was co-signed by 24 colleagues from both sides of the aisle. As they noted, this law is “the foundation of public-private partnerships that have driven our economy forward and improved public welfare.”

I commend those 28 members of Congress, both Democrat and Republican, for taking a stance together on this important issue and standing up to blind partisanship.

This is not a partisan issue, but rather an American one. The Bayh-Dole Act is an important legislative tool that, when properly harnessed, can help the United States continue to achieve impressive milestones. We have all benefited from technologies created under Bayh-Dole; it would be foolish to strip ourselves of those opportunities in the future.

Image Source: Deposit Photos
Author: iqoncept
Image ID: 61369901 


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  • [Avatar for Anon]
    May 7, 2024 10:49 am

    This seems to be in direct opposition to the “Equity” notions of the current Administration.

    Somehow, this does not ever seem to be addressed. How Martha Vineyards of those involved.

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