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Guest Column: Collateral Damage American Innovation | Opinion

Guest Column: Collateral Damage American Innovation | Opinion


The Biden administration recently proposed a misinterpretation of a decades-old law aimed at lowering drug prices. But as studies have already shown, the White House's plan will do nothing to achieve that goal.

Rather, it risks destroying our nation's ability to innovate across all high-tech fields by removing incentives for companies and entrepreneurs to license inventions resulting from research at universities and research institutes. We cannot afford such self-harm, especially now, when China poses an unprecedented threat to America's position as the world's undisputed technology leader.

By threatening to overturn the law, commonly known as the Bayh-Dole Act of 1980, the administration is also making clear that it does not understand why it was needed in the first place.

From cutting-edge cancer drugs to firefighting drones, quantum computing and renewable energy, it's easy to take the wonders of today's science for granted. But you shouldn't.

Before Bayh-Dole, most scientific advances in universities and federal laboratories were not developed into actual products. They gathered dust on the shelves. That's because they were partially funded by the federal government, meaning the government held the patent rights, not the research institutions that produced the breakthroughs. And governments rarely licensed those patents to private companies that could turn great ideas into tangible products.

Bayh-Dole fixed this impasse by allowing universities and other research institutions that receive federal funding to hold patents on their inventions.

Unlike the federal government, they had strong incentives to pursue licensing agreements with private companies that could commercialize their inventions.

This dramatically changed the scientific and commercial landscape. Before Bayh-Dole, less than 5% of the approximately 30,000 patents the government held from university research were licensed, a huge waste of taxpayer money. In 2022 alone, universities and research institutes acquired 7,739 of his patents and 9,884 development licenses.

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From 1996 to 2020, Bayh-Dole also helped create more than 17,000 startups, boosting U.S. gross industrial product by nearly $2 trillion.

Patent rights are a powerful incentive. When investors fund startups working to commercialize basic research, they do so with the expectation that the patents underlying the companies' initial products will be secure. It would be extremely foolish to undermine that investor's confidence. Compared to privately funded R&D expenditures, governments account for only a small portion of R&D expenditures.

The administration's proposal, introduced in December, would allow the federal government to reassert control over patents and licenses if even a small amount of federal research funding contributes to the development of unique inventions. Bureaucrats can also forcefully relicense patents on products that have already been commercialized if they arbitrarily decide that the price is too high.

That would clearly be against the law. The government argues that Bayh-Dole's vague march-in provision allows it to forcefully relicense patents at will, but the law provides that such power does not allow patent holders to file patent applications. It specifically states that it can only be used in rare circumstances, such as when a person refuses to license a discovery. first place.

The march-in signal to companies and venture capitalists that investing in basic research development with federal funds is too risky. Entrepreneurs and investors will abandon the process entirely, crushing technology transfer. And since Bayh-Dole controls all the technology that comes out of federal funding, from pharmaceuticals to advanced materials to quantum sensors, every high-tech sector of the economy will be at risk.

The administration must withdraw this proposal. The future of our innovation economy requires the same.

Dr. Walter G. Copan is vice provost for research and technology transfer at the Colorado School of Mines, senior advisor at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and co-founder of the American Innovation Renewal Project. He previously served as director of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).

Dr. Walter G. Copan is vice provost for research and technology transfer at the Colorado School of Mines, senior advisor at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and co-founder of the American Innovation Renewal Project. He previously served as director of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).




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