AUTM Advocacy 2018 Year in Review

By Mike Waring

Exploring New Opportunities, Facing New Challenges
Advocating for a both a strong patent system and a favorable technology transfer environment are crucial AUTM initiatives – and are now more important than ever. Our activities in 2018 provide examples of how your Association – working together with other higher education associations – is working to advance the interests of the profession.

Drug Pricing. This issue continues to intensify as some lawmakers and the White House look at various regulatory and legislative proposals to control rising costs – including using compulsory licensing provisions. Several bills that were introduced in the current Congress will be re-introduced when the new Congress convenes in 2019. We expect much activity on this issue.

While this has the potential to disrupt the technology transfer ecosystem of which all of our Members rely, this is particularly challenging for our academic Members. Universities represent both tech transfer efforts to create new drugs, but many also have hospitals that purchase millions of dollars of those same pharmaceuticals. AUTM will continue to advance ideas to prevent any action that would harm the ability of early-stage drug development to flourish for lack of investment.

Working with the new Patent Director. The arrival of Andrei Iancu as head of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) has brought new energy to the agency and a willingness to make needed reforms, particularly in the area of inter partes review (IPR) processes. AUTM met with Iancu soon after his appointment and filed comments in support of several efforts by Director Iancu to reform the system. Iancu will be the featured speaker at AUTM 2019 Annual Meeting Fireside Chat in February in Austin. We will continue to work with the Director in 2019 to help make patents more reliable and defendable.  

Sovereign Immunity. In the wake of litigation involving the use of sovereign immunity by Native American tribes to shield patents from exposure to the IPR process, AUTM has remained part of the discussion about how and when this right should be exercised. We await further action by the federal courts on several cases related to this important constitutional right that many public universities use for a variety of purposes.

Return on Investment Initiative. With the National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST) issuing its Return on Investment (ROI) initiative about technology transfer, AUTM played an active role in responding to the initiative and providing detailed comments. Those comments paralleled similar filings by the other higher education associations to help build the case for leaving the Bayh-Dole law fairly intact. This was a major effort by the AUTM Public Policy Advisory Committee and a key group of AUTM members. AUTM’s webinar on changes to Bayh-Dole, “The New Bayh-Dole Rules: What They Are, What They Mean,” was highly-attended. You can access it here.

AUTM has been active in this initiative with CEO Stephen Susalka participating on a panel in the “Unleashing American Innovation” kickoff event, and AUTM leadership provided comments at each of four listening sessions held by NIST on the initiative. The NIST Green Paper has been released and we anticipate a final white paper will be finalized early next year with a positive view of the work that universities do to commercialize technologies.

Supreme Court briefs. The AUTM Legal Task Force – led by Brion Berman of the University of Central Florida – has considered numerous requests for AUTM to weigh-in on amicus briefs on various patent cases before the federal courts. This group of lawyers has helped guide recommendations for such action on occasion by the AUTM Board. Among the group’s major efforts this year was helping to provide comments on USPTO rulemakings, including changing the claims construction standard for IPRs.  

SUCCESS Act. AUTM joined other higher ed organizations in a statement of support for the Study of Underrepresented Classes Chasing Engineering and Science Success (SUCCESS) Act, which was signed into law this fall, and efforts to foster greater diversity and inclusion within the innovation ecosystem.

DC Presentations. AUTM is visible in the Washington, D.C. with AUTM’s CEO participating in several panel discussions throughout the year. AUTM also helped sponsor the Patents for Humanity Awards at the USPTO. 

The new Congress that convenes in January will have new committee leadership, and as a result we will see new agenda items come before AUTM and the tech transfer community. AUTM will continue to play its important role as a key advisory group, helping the broader higher education community represent the views of tech transfer before the federal government.

For further details about AUTM advocacy, see our AUTM Speaks Out pages on or contact Mike Waring or Brion Berman.

Mike Waring, is the Chair of AUTM’s Advocacy and Alliances Portfolio, and Executive Director of Federal Relations for the University of Michigan since 2000. Mike is based in Washington, DC.