New Bill Will Enlist GAO to Study How Federal Oversight of Tech Transfer Can Be Streamlined

Mike Waring
AUTM Advocacy and Alliances Coordinator

You know a piece of proposed legislation is a good thing for academic tech transfer when AUTM’s CEO is quoted in the accompanying press release sent by the bill’s sponsors. That’s exactly what happened when Senators Chris Coons (D-Del.) and Thom Tillis (R-NC) introduced new legislation to require the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to examine how federal compliance processes related to academic technology transfer can be streamlined.
The bill – known as the Improving Efficiency to Increase Competition Act—had been introduced in the House of Representatives in December by Reps. Joe Neguse (D-Colo.) and Mike Flood (R-Neb.). It would require GAO to undertake a thorough study of how the government oversees technology transfer and how agencies do—or do not—follow proper protocols.
AUTM worked closely to help draft this legislation, and we look forward to helping Reps. Neguse and Flood and Senators Coons and Tillis move these bills to a swift enactment.
“This legislation directs an important GAO study to find out how the technology transfer process is working and how the federal government can make it work even better,” AUTM CEO Stephen Susalka said in a press release jointly issued by the bill’s four sponsors. “We believe this study can help guide agencies toward improving their role in the effort by universities to spin off even more beneficial research for the American people.”
As most of you know, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has been the main agency with oversight over how the federal government interacts and oversees the technology transfer process for universities and other non-profit institutions who receive federal research funding.

While NIST has tried to be an honest broker, it has not always been able to adequately get other federal research agencies to play along. In recent years, for example, we have seen the Department of Energy put out a unilateral Declaration of Exceptional Circumstances (DEC) to restrict the ability of technology providers to only use domestic manufacturing to advance DOE-funded inventions. Similarly, we have seen agencies not respond at all when tech transfer offices request waivers to such a policy under the regulations. This has caused numerous problems for tech transfer offices at times and all sort of inequities between agencies. 
But this new development offers hope. The bills set the GAO in motion to take on this assignment and report back to Congress on what is and is not working. The goal is to either get agencies to follow protocols more faithfully or perhaps have Congress provide clearer guidance to them as they perform their oversight activities, hopefully with much less red tape.
Specifically, the legislation would require the GAO Comptroller General to conduct a study on the disclosure processes for intellectual property developed by federal grantees under the Bayh-Dole Act. The study would include information on existing barriers to efficient reporting, how these barriers have affected the development of new inventions, and opportunities to improve the current reporting system. GAO would be required to get feedback from grantees of various sizes, budgets, geographical locations and specialties—helping to ensure that different industries and areas of the country are represented in the study. 
The sponsors want to bring the two bills to the House and Senate floors, respectively, in a fast-tracked time period. As essentially “non-controversial” bills, the hope is that each house can move to approve the legislation and then have GAO begin its work soon.
As Rep. Neguse stated, “Higher-education institutions are pivotal to building an innovation landscape and advanced workforce. The Improving Efficiency to Increase Competition Act will enable these institutions…to retain patents and licenses on inventions, while streamlining reporting processes to help support institutions engaging in groundbreaking research and developments.”