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October 28, 2020 | Tom Ballard

Early celebration held to commemorate “Bayh-Dole Act”

If you have ever licensed an invention funded by federal dollars, you should salute those who organized a celebration yesterday commemorating the 40th anniversary of passage of the “Patent and Trademark Law Amendments Act” (Pub. L. 96-517).

The virtual event that drew nearly 800 attendees occurred just a little more than six weeks ahead of the date that the legislation, more commonly referred to as the “Bayh-Dole Act,” was signed into law. The act is arguably the most significant effort in terms of commercialization of federally-funded inventions.

The celebration, organized by the Bayh-Dole 40 Coalition, featured the sole surviving member of the duo that successful steered the legislation through Congress in what rarely occurs now – a bipartisan approach. Former U.S. Senator Birch Bayh of Indiana died about a year ago, but former Senator Bob Dole of Kansas participated briefly at the start of the celebration.

“It has changed the lives of so many Americans,” Senator Dole said, referencing many new drugs that have resulted. That was a theme that continued during subsequent presentations. The other prime sponsor was represented by his son.

“He (Senator Bayh) viewed ‘Bayh-Dole’ as one of the most important things he ever accomplished,” Chris Bayh told attendees, reminding them that “the work and dedication of a few people can make a big difference.”

Another of the speakers was Walter Copan (pictured here in a screenshot from yesterday’s event), Under Secretary of the U.S. Department of Commerce and Director of the National Institute of Standards and Technology. We were colleagues during my Oak Ridge National Laboratory tenure when he was Managing Director of Technology Commercialization and Partnerships at Brookhaven National Laboratory, one of the national laboratories managed solely by Battelle or in partnership with one or more organizations.

Copan cited the importance of “Bayh-Dole” and another 1980-enacted law – the “Stevenson-Wydler Technology Innovation Act” (Pub. L. 96-480) – in terms of their impact on society. The latter made it easier for federal laboratories to transfer technology to non-federal entities and provided outside organizations with a means for accessing federal laboratory technologies.

“Countless people are alive today” as a result of federally-funded research that was commercialized through these acts, Copan noted. The 40-year result is $1.7 trillion in economic impact, 5.9 million jobs, and 13,000 start-ups that have licensed technologies from universities.

“It has accelerated American entrepreneurship,” he said, adding the importance of “deploying technologies for public good.”

If you are not familiar with the “Bayh-Dole Act,” here is a list of the impact of the law as outlined by the Coalition.

  • Empowers universities, small businesses and non-profit institutions to take ownership of inventions made during federally-funded research, so they can license these basic inventions for further applied research and development and broader public use.
  • Encourages private-sector investment needed to turn basic government-funded research into tested and approved products, requires these products to be manufactured domestically and ensures royalties for universities to further advance basic research and education.
  • Allows the government to require additional licensing of inventions arising from its research if the invention is not being made available for public use or during public health or other national emergencies.
  • Enacted by Congress with strong bipartisan support to ensure basic innovations discovered through federal research are developed into real-life products, including approved therapies that reduce suffering, treat the sick and improve the lives of patients.

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