AUTM Advocacy Update

Bayh-Dole’s 40th Anniversary – A Celebration, But Also a Reminder

By Mike Waring
October 7, 2020
It was 40 years ago that Senators Birch Bayh (D-IN) and Bob Dole (R-KS) passed the Bayh-Dole Act. As most of you know, it was this legislation that first gave universities the right to intellectual property rights for inventions and discoveries made while using federal funds.
Those two senators took great pride at the enormous impact that legislation had on our nation. More than $1.7 trillion in economic impact – tens of thousands of patents – millions of jobs created. Over two hundred new drugs developed in just the past thirty years or so. The benefits go on and on. And that success has fueled the willingness of Congress and many administrations to continue asking for increased appropriations for scientific research. Who would have guessed that NIH’s budget alone would rise to near $50 billion annually?
Yet while all of tech transfer can be justifiably proud of this legacy of achievement, now is not the time to rest on our laurels.
There are still many critics who wonder aloud why the government doesn’t get “paid back” for the investment it makes in research. Some of those critics believe that drug compounds discovered on campuses that are eventually licensed to pharma and bio-tech companies for development only make those companies unfairly rich.
Universities sit at a vital place in this discussion. Our hospitals and employees spend billions on drugs — yet we are also where the next great drugs are being developed. The work now happening on COVID-19 treatments and vaccines is astonishing in its breadth and depth. Work on those cures, plus all the other treatments and inventions in college labs, depends upon the intellectual property system working as intended. Because without financial incentives of one kind or another, many of those discoveries might well languish and the research that created them go unfulfilled.  
Tech transfer offices should celebrate this anniversary of Bayh-Dole by telling the stories of its success to all who will listen. But we also need to make sure policymakers and others understand that this success could be lost in the future if our government makes decisions that ignore the realities of how risky it is to bring some of these discoveries to the American public. 
As we thank Senators Bayh and Dole, let us double down on our commitment to making sure the system they created continues to yield the great benefits our nation has seen over the past forty years.