Excerpt from The Great American University by Dr. Jonathan Cole explaining the impact of the Bayh-Dole Act on colleges and universities:
“The change in the law that this act engendered was simple but of profound significance: In the past, intellectual property rights resulting from federally sponsored research at universities had been assigned to the federal government; they would now be assigned to the universities themselves. The universities would be able to patent discoveries and license the patented material to businesses interested in developing marketable products. Universities could even sponsor start-up companies based on the intellectual property that they owned and hold an equity stake in them.”
The Bayh-Dole Act
It is the policy and objective of the Congress to use the patent system to promote the utilization of inventions arising from federally supported research or development; to encourage maximum participation of small business firms in federally supported research and development efforts; to promote collaboration between commercial concerns and nonprofit organizations, including universities; to ensure that inventions made by nonprofit organizations and small business firms are used in a manner to promote free competition and enterprise without unduly encumbering future research and discovery; to promote the commercialization and public availability of inventions made in the United States by United States industry and labor; to ensure that the Government obtains sufficient rights in federally supported inventions to meet the needs of the Government and protect the public against nonuse or unreasonable use of inventions; and to minimize the costs of administering policies in this area.
The number of patents is a measure of what has been diverted from the public domain, from the federal patent commons, and from individual inventors to institutional control. The measure of Bayh-Dole’s success–on its own terms–is practical application of inventions. There, the university-brokered commercialization rate was 25% or better before Bayh-Dole, and is around 0.5% now. Before Bayh-Dole, there was the Institutional Patent Agreement program–from the mid 1950s to 1978–for HEW and NSF, the two agencies that dealt most with universities. The IPA program allowed institutional ownership as well. Its commercialization rate was about 4%. Bayh-Dole surely did motivate universities to file way more patents. But is that a measure of its success?