Today, Bill Gates is scheduled to testify before the U.S. House Committee on Science and Technology on the future of innovation and U.S. competitiveness. At a hearing commemorating the committee’s 50th anniversary, Gates will focus on key issues around the future of U.S. competitiveness: including education and work-force development, the need for immigration reform to allow highly skilled workers to remain in the U.S, and the need to continue to invest in basic research.
“I know we all want the United States to continue to be the world’s center for innovation. But our position as the global leader in innovation is at risk,” Gates said. “If this nation is to continue to be the global center of innovation, Congress, the current administration and the next president must act decisively.”
Well, here’s a thought. How about we amend the Bayh-Dole Act?
For those who are not familiar with the Bayh-Dole Act, it is a very significant piece of U.S. intellectual property legislation that was enacted in 1980. Perhaps the most significant aspect of the legislation was the change in the assumption of ownership of the intellectual property created by government funded research. Prior to Bayh-Dole, the resulting IP from government funded research was the property of the taxpayers—the people who actual paid for the research.
It was argued at the time, that the ownership of IP by the taxpayers did not benefit society because universities had no incentive to move the IP into the commercial arena. By creating a monetization opportunity for the research institutions, the taxpayers would benefit because the inventions would more rapidly make their way to useful products, and innovation would be further spurred by the institutions seeking enhanced IP driven revenue.
In practice, Bayh-Dole has been mostly a benefit to the business community. Not that this is a bad thing, but it was certainly not the stated intent of the bill.
It seems that a modified Bayh-Dole could continue to serve the original intent, and at the same time help ensure that the benefits of publicly funded research inure more directly to the taxpayers. Rather than transfer ownership of the IP wholly to the research institution, the ownership should be held by taxpayers under a profit sharing program that cuts research institutions and inventor in on a piece of the monetization action.
An Office of Innovation Development should be formed that is responsible for working with institutions to actively promote such IP. The portion of the proceeds from IP development that inure to the taxpayers should then be put in a specific innovation development fund that is earmarked to fund science & technology education, basic research, and innovation skills development.
I am usually the last person to argue for governmental expansion, but privatization of such valuable publicly held assets was a very raw deal for taxpayers. We are at a pivotal moment in history relative to world economic development. The resources generated from these intellectual property assets could be channeled to great public benefit. This would be a real benefit to the U.S. and a significant benefit to the global community as well.