It's Time to Take Our Message About March-In Rights to State-Level Policy Makers


Mike Waring
AUTM Advocacy and Alliances Coordinator

Topic one for technology transfer policy of late has been the proposal to allow “reasonable pricing” to be a justification for the federal government to march-in on patents, which prompted an unprecedented outcry from universities, DC legislators and national organizations. Now it’s time to expand those advocacy efforts to state-level policy makers.  
Thanks to the work that many of you did, universities responded as never before in protest of misguided efforts by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) to expand march-in rights beyond what the authors of the Bayh-Dole Act intended. It is believed more than 100 sets of comments from universities were filed in opposition to the proposal that NIST originally made public in December. And the momentum from that effort continues today, as numerous letters have been sent on Capitol Hill in opposition as well. One major letter was led by our two leading champions in the Senate – Chris Coons (D-DE) and Thom Tillis (R-NC). 

While we wait to see what the final outcome at NIST will be, our work needs to continue.  And a great way to expand the campaign against the march-in changes is to engage with state officials, who are often more familiar with the positive impacts of commercialization of university research on regional economic development.
If you have not already done so, make sure your state relations officers have shared with your governor and state legislature any comments your university provided in response to NIST’s request for comment. The context you’ll want to emphasize is that such a change would endanger your institution’s ability to create new companies and more jobs in the region.   
Another way to make this case is by including local economic development groups, chambers of commerce and other business-related organizations. Here’s why.
The response from business groups nationally has been excellent. The US Chamber of Commerce filed strong comments opposing the change. The National Venture Capital Association also had an excellent filing. Even the generic drug association voiced its concerns about marching-in on drug patents. We need to tap into that recognition by the business community to make sure local entities of those groups are aware of the widespread concerns. A one-pager on the issue is available here.

The march-in issue is just one of numerous attempts to use intellectual property to deal with pricing issues. Recently, the World Trade Organization decided not to expand its waiver of international treaties, which would have forced open patenting of therapeutics and diagnostics for COVID-19. And the World Health Organization is looking at draft policies that might do the same for the next pandemic. Both efforts misunderstand the importance that IP plays in creating the vaccines and tests we will need when another COVID-like situation occurs. The more we can dispel that notion, the better.
There is an old adage that one should “never waste a good crisis.” The potential crisis that could result from the NIST march-in proposal gives all of us another opportunity to engage local and federal officials about the work tech transfer offices do and why that work is so important to the future of the American economy, health care and national security. Explaining how our business works is the starting point for developing support for tech transfer across all levels of government.

Thanks again for all you have done so far on this critical issue. Let’s keep up the great work.