AUTM is “At the Table” as Congress Looks at Patent Eligibility

Mike Waring
AUTM Advocacy and Alliances Coordinator


One of the major challenges facing tech transfer offices and their inventors is figuring out if a potential discovery is patentable.

Section 101 of patent law defines what sorts of new discoveries are “patent eligible.” It is the first hurdle any inventor must overcome before his or her invention can be considered by the U.S. Patent Office.

Unfortunately, over the past decade, the Supreme Court has issued several rulings that have narrowed the definition of eligibility. This is a particular problem for things like medical diagnostics, where the use of DNA can aid in fighting various diseases. The Court’s ruling of what is part of “nature,” and therefore not patentable, has been expanded, making the ability of researchers to secure patents for these diagnostic tests much more difficult. The losers, when that happens, are the American people, who are denied the potential benefits these tests can bring.

Thankfully, several members of the U.S. Senate – notably Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC) – have been working with various interest groups in Washington to see if some legislative remedy can be created. Among the groups at the table working on this issue is AUTM, and rightfully so. AUTM members routinely deal with the issue, and tech transfer has a huge stake in how Congress might address issues caused by the aforementioned court rulings.

Led by CEO Steve Susalka, AUTM has joined other proponents of needed reforms to push back against mostly high-tech interests, who have benefitted from a murkier system that can negate new technologies before they even have a chance to be considered for a patent. While no agreements have yet been reached, this process appears to have potential down the road for coming up with a solution to an important impediment to patenting.

AUTM advocacy takes many forms. By linking arms with other higher education associations, AUTM has fought anti-patent legislation for decades. It has also advocated for positive proposals, such as the U.S. Innovation and Competitiveness Act now in a House-Senate conference, which could provide new funding for technology transfer. And it has spoken (via amicus briefs) directly to the federal courts on key judicial rulings that have a long-term impact on the work we do.

Your AUTM Membership has many benefits. AUTM’s advocacy on Section 101 reform is yet another example of how your Association is fighting for the future of our profession.