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Managing University Intellectual Property in the Public Interest

Managing University Intellectual Property in the Public Interest is a recent publication from the National Research Council that reviews evidence of change in universities’ technology transfer systems as a result of the Bayh-Dole Act of 1980, and includes recommendations for improving the system of university IP management.

Thirty years ago federal policy underwent a major change through the Bayh-Dole Act of 1980 (P.L. 96-517, the Patent and Trademark Act Amendments of 1980), which fostered greater uniformity in the way research agencies treat inventions arising from the work they sponsor, allowing universities to take title in most circumstances, and as a result accelerating patenting and licensing activity.  Universities have generally applied the same policies and practices to self-supported and privately sponsored research whose output is not regulated.  Although the system created by the Bayh-Dole Act has remained stable, it has nevertheless generated a good deal of debate about whether it is as effective as it could be and whether it has produced unintended effects that are adverse to other modes of technology transfer and even to the norms of the university community.

Among the findings of report was that although transfer methods will vary among institutions, the overall goal of expeditious and broad dissemination of discoveries and inventions places IP-based technology transfer within the research university’s core mission of discovery, learning, and the promotion of well-being.  The report also found it essential that universities give a clear policy mandate to their technology transfer units, and that this requires the participation of a variety of stakeholders.  Included in the recommendations are the following points:

  • The leadership of each institution—president, provost, and board of trustees—should articulate a clear mission for the unit responsible for IP management, convey the mission to internal and external stakeholders, and evaluate effort accordingly. The mission statement should embrace and articulate the university’s foundational responsibility to support smooth and efficient processes to encourage the widest dissemination of university-generated technology for the public good.
  • There is strong evidence that the technology licensing unit is more effective when exposed to broader issues inherent in the financing and conduct of research.  This is best served by locating the technology transfer office in proximity and making it accountable to the university’s research management, for example, reporting to the provost or vice provost for research and allied or integrated with the office of sponsored research.
  • Universities should pursue patenting and licensing practices that maximize the further development, use, and beneficial social impact of their technologies.

These recommendations are intended to support venture creation as a principal vehicle for technology transfer for social good and are also intended to encourage staff cooperation with the technology transfer office, facilitate cooperation among elements of the support structure for entrepreneurship, and result in more accurate reporting of entrepreneurial activity.

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