A New Year, a New Congress, But Many of the Same Issues

Mike Waring
AUTM Advocacy and Alliances Coordinator

With the arrival of 2023 comes a new Congress – one which will be in some ways similar to the one that finished its work in December, but different in other ways that will be important for technology transfer offices to keep tabs on. 

With Republicans now taking a narrow majority in the House, there will be a new agenda.  Of interest to the tech transfer community, we will likely see the naming of Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) as chair of the House Intellectual Property Subcommittee. Pro-patent groups have not always made a lot of headway with the new chair, but we will renew our dialogue with him.  Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY), a strong supporter of patents and a patent owner himself, also will be on the panel and can help voice pro-patent concerns. It appears that intellectual property (IP) issues will have a low profile with the House Judiciary Committee of this new Congress, given that committee’s wide jurisdiction on other matters. 

The Senate, meanwhile, will continue in Democratic hands. At this point, we foresee Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE) chairing the IP subcommittee, with Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC) as the ranking member. They have developed a strong working relationship and co-sponsored important legislation dealing with the issue of Section 101 reform during the last Congress. We look forward to further work on that issue, hopefully leading to legislation that will help address many of our challenges in that space. You will recall that the AUTM Board presented awards to both senators last summer in Washington during its DC board meeting. 

Many other issues from previous years will remain topics of discussion. Some parties continue to try and force the National Institutes of Health to use “march-in” rights to claw back a UCLA cancer patent. So far, despite repeated attempts, the Administration has merely said it will look at the issue. Hopefully it will again reject the idea as being outside of the scope of the Bayh-Dole legislation.   

On another medical IP front, the Administration also asked for a study before any further expansion of the TRIPS (Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights) waiver the World Trade Organization approved last year to increase access to COVID-related vaccines. Several countries – notably South Africa and India – had sought an expansion of that patent relief for COVID-19 diagnostics and therapeutics. The Administration’s desire for further research before agreeing should hopefully put that issue on the back burner, at least for now.   

Of major significance will be how the National Science Foundation (NSF) rolls out any of the new tech transfer programs that were authorized by the CHIPS and Science Act passed last August.  Unfortunately, when Congress approved NSF funding for FY2023 in December, the increase it provided came in the form of “supplemental” appropriations that are only for a year. It will be important for NSF to at least establish a process through which tech transfer offices can apply for whatever funding it can provide to help initiate the new program. 

All of this means tech transfer offices need to stay on top of the various issues facing us in Washington. To help with that, I will be moderating a panel on Monday February 20 at the AUTM Annual Meeting in Austin, which will focus on these issues and how tech transfer officers can work within their institutions to build awareness and advocate for action as needed.  I hope to see many of you there. 

AUTM had a mostly successful 2022, but we will need to keep working hard in the new year to maintain our progress.  I look forward to updating you in these columns each month.  Happy New Year to you all.