AUTM Taking on New Advocacy Emphasis

By Mike Waring
Chair, Advocacy and Alliances Portfolio
There’s an old adage in Washington, D.C., where groups or individuals are classified as either “players” or “spectators.” Essentially, that expression simply means that decisions by the federal government will be made on a host of issues, and groups that care about those decisions need to speak up (be “players”) instead of standing on the sidelines (as “spectators”) and letting other voices score political points.
For many years, AUTM has worked closely with its allied higher education associations in D.C. to help advocate for or against legislation and regulations that could impact technology transfer and commercialization. Teaming up with the Association of American Universities (AAU) and the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) – both of whom represent university presidents – has given AUTM added volume to the debate in Washington. Other allies include the Council on Governmental Relations (COGR) and the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC).
AUTM’s role has and will continue to be to provide real-world data and information to help shape the university response to issues. In the past, this has been extremely helpful when pushing back on negative patent reform bills. The groups have also collaborated on numerous regulatory efforts, including the NIST Green Paper project which looked at how (and if) changes were needed to Bayh-Dole rules.
Moving forward, AUTM seeks to further elevate its advocacy efforts. A case in point is the recent effort in Congress to increase the authorized level of spending by the National Science Foundation (NSF) to keep America competitive with China and other global challengers. In discussions with key legislative staff, AUTM planted the seed for a new program recently approved by the Senate as part of the United States Innovation and Competition Act. That legislation – which passed the Senate on a bipartisan 68-32 vote in early June – would create new grants to help increase technology transfer capacity. It also would authorize funding for regional economic development hubs.  The bill that passed is much broader than initially introduced, and unfortunately contains new security provisions that universities believe are onerous and unnecessary.
Meanwhile, in late June the House of Representatives passed much smaller bills focused on NSF and the Department of Energy. The House and Senate bills will now go to a conference committee, where many differences must be ironed out before a final bill can be approved and sent to President Biden. Throughout the process, the goal of AUTM and all the higher ed associations will be to advance positive changes while attempting to minimize or remove negative provisions.
As AUTM increases its advocacy activity, we are reminded that working with the other presidential associations is key to helping advance improvements for universities in general and tech transfer specifically.  In addition, AUTM Members have important expertise and data that can be invaluable to the federal relations officers on each of their campuses.  As AUTM ramps up its advocacy efforts, we encourage you to engage with your federal relations staff now to set the table for future conversations.
Being ready to answer the call on these and other legislative and regulatory issues is an important way that AUTM and its Members can be “players” working on a positive agenda in our nation’s capital.