AUTM Advocacy Update

Election to Bring Changes, Challenges to Technology Transfer

By Mike Waring
December 2, 2020
On November 3rd, the American people elected new leaders for 2021 and beyond. The impact for university technology transfer offices will offer both new opportunities and challenges.
With the transition to the Biden administration, we will see an entirely new cabinet. That will include a new Secretary of Commerce, which will likely lead to leadership changes at two agencies of high importance to tech transfer: the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).
Over the past four years, USPTO and NIST have been extremely active on issues of interest, and often in a good way. Under Director Andrei Iancu’s leadership, USPTO moved quickly to try and reverse some of the damage from court cases that has made obtaining some patents more difficult. He also initiated changes to make the Patent Trial and Appeals Board process fairer for those involved in it. Meanwhile, Walt Copan at NIST has been a strong partner with USPTO, particularly in pushing forward the Green Paper that laid out ways to strengthen patent rights and oppose attempts to use “march-in”rights to control drug pricing, clearly something for which they were not intended.
On Capitol Hill, the 117th Congress that convenes in January will include some new and some familiar faces on key committees. Assuming Republicans hold at least one of the two US Senate seats in Georgia (January runoffs), Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA) is likely to return to chair the Senate Judiciary Committee with its oversight of patent and other IP issues. And with Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) stepping down as ranking Democrat, look for Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) to take over that role. On the House side, Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) will return to chair the House Judiciary Committee. 
It is likely that the drug pricing issue will continue to challenge Congress and the new White House in 2021. As always, universities sit on both sides of that equation and will need to be nimble in making sure any “solutions” do not inhibit development of the next great drug. 
Tech transfer directors should prepare now to help their federal and state relations colleagues “tell the story” of innovation to new and returning policymakers.