The Faster Cures FAQ on Bayh-Dole, 2

We are working through the Faster Cures FAQ on Bayh-Dole.

2. What does Bayh-Dole say about the ownership of inventions and technologies?

Pursuant to Bayh-Dole, universities and other nonprofit organizations that receive federal funding, may “elect to retain title to any subject invention.”

Bayh-Dole addresses “patentable inventions” (and plant varieties), not “technologies.” In a sense, Bayh-Dole breaks up technologies into newly patentable fragments. As a federal agency distributes research work to many nonprofits, Bayh-Dole’s effect is to fragment any emerging technology into patentable bits and unpatentable bits. The patentable bits then end up being owned by many different nonprofits, making it virtually impossible for any company to acquire all the rights necessary to practice any particular bit of the technology–and it’s an even greater problem if a company desires to develop a product for sale. Can you think of any slower way to create a “cure”?

Thus, we might say that Bayh-Dole “says” that ownership of bits and pieces of emerging technologies should be fragmented among competing nonprofits, giving preference to each nonprofit pursuing its own financial interest in favor of combining all such ownership positions in a single entity. In prior executive branch patent policy, outside of procurement from commercial firms and the IPA program, the effort was to consolidate patent ownership claims in the federal government and then release for public use the consolidated package of rights–everyone got the same package deal to research, use, develop, compete over, obtain patents on improvements and applications, and develop standards.

If a nonprofit acquires title–making a given invention become a subject invention– Bayh-Dole requires federal agencies to allow the nonprofit to “elect to retain title,” subject to the public covenant that runs with subject inventions as expressed in the standard patent rights clause. Continue reading

Posted in Bayh-Dole | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

The Faster Cures FAQ on Bayh-Dole, 1

Faster Cures has at its web site a FAQ on Bayh-Dole. Let’s work through their account of Bayh-Dole and help them where they appear challenged.

1. What is the Bayh-Dole Act?

Co-sponsored by Senators Birch Bayh of Indiana and Robert Dole of Kansas, The Patent and Trademark Law Amendments Act of 1980, more commonly known as the Bayh-Dole Act or simply “Bayh-Dole,” is legislation that shifted the ownership of inventions made with federally funded research.

No. This is slant. Bayh-Dole did not shift ownership of inventions. Bayh-Dole does deal with ownership of inventions, but only second hand, after a contractor has acquired ownership of an invention in the good old conventional way. Instead Bayh-Dole limits how federal agencies may, in contracts for research or development, require assignment to the federal government of inventions already acquired by contractors. That is, Bayh-Dole is about how federal agencies contract for inventions contractors have come to own. We might say Bayh-Dole restricts how federal contracts may require assignment of inventions by contractors. While assignment does indeed “shift the ownership” of inventions, one has to be clear that the effect of Bayh-Dole is to limit how federal agencies contract for assignment once ownership has already been shifted.

In contrast, faux Bayh-Dole claims that the law changes federal common law so that the organizations that host federally funded research own (or have a right to own, or have a right of first refusal, or whatever) inventions made with federal support. In faux Bayh-Dole, the organization does not have to have an independent claim to equitable ownership–not authority to direct employees to invent, not patent agreements, not a financial investment, not a foreseeable business direction. Nothing. The Faster Cures FAQ starts, then, by reciting a basic tenet of faux Bayh-Dole. Continue reading

Posted in Bayh-Dole | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Political bluffing as Bayh-Dole policy advice, 2

This, then, is the “policy” of Bayh-Dole that Allen champions–that nonprofits can and should deal in patent monopolies. Some historical bluffing from Allen’s policy advice (his emphasis):

At that time the federal government funded about half of the R&D in the country (it’s now a third) and the vast majority of basic research where breakthrough products are discovered. We found that 28,000 inventions had been taken by the government with less than 5% ever being licensed. We also discovered that not a single new drug had ever been developed under these policies. That was a tragic waste of billions of taxpayer’s dollars spent annually on government R&D.

Most of the 28,000 patents were defense related. For those, the contractors declined to take title and patent the inventions. A federal official testified that the patenting was done for “defensive” purposes and probably did not need to have been done. In all of those patents, according to Rebecca Eisenberg, there were 325 presumptively biomedical inventions, and the licensing rate for these was 23%:

For example, 325 of the 28,000 patents in the government’s
portfolio were from HEW, and seventy-five (or twenty-three percent) of these HEW patents were licensed as of the end of fiscal year 1976.

In the decade that the revived IPA program was in operation, universities reported 4 commercial products from 96 inventions. One can’t quite compare the 4% university rate resulting in commercial product (of whatever sort) with the 23% federal licensing rate (meaning, apparently, just granting an exclusive license without regard for outcome), but there’s a suggestion that the federal government was doing a way better job with inventions that it sponsored than the universities were doing.

“Licensed” in all these statistics is of course nearly meaningless. What matters is that something comes of the license–use, contributions to the technology, product development, new products. That a license has been granted and counted is meaningless. Continue reading

Posted in Bayh-Dole, Bozonet, History | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Political bluffing as Bayh-Dole policy advice, 1

In a once-notorious essay (“Is Business Bluffing Ethical“) Albert Carr, a former presidential advisor, argues that business “bluffing” is ethical because business is based on games, and in games bluffing is perfectly acceptable. Same for politics. If everyone expects everyone else to bluff (or lie, or deceive), then it cannot be unethical to do so, because no one involved could possibly rely on what people say in such circumstances. If everyone aims to deceive, then no one can possibly be deceived.

Here’s Joseph Allen, a former political aide to Senator Birch Bayh, giving advice to President-elect Trump in December 2016:

Because of Bayh-Dole policies, when Stanford and the University of California came up with the basic process for biotechnology they were able to own and manage it.

The reference, of course, is to the Cohen-Boyer “gene-splicing” patents. But Allen is bluffing. Here’s an account of Cohen-Boyer’s patents (my emphasis):

The patent application was filed on 4th November 1974, with Cohen and Boyer as inventors. If a patent was issued it was to be assigned to Stanford University. In 1976, Boyer co-founded Genentech with Robert Swanson, a venture capitalist.

Six years after the 1974 patent application was filed, the first patent titled “Process for producing biologically functional molecular chimeras” (US Patent No. 4,237,224) was granted on 2nd December 1980.

The second titled “Biologically functional molecular chimeras” was granted on 28 August 1984, and the third was granted on 26 April 1988, all three of which would expire in 1997 and assigned to Stanford University.

Bayh-Dole came into effect July 1, 1981. Cohen-Boyer was not invented under Bayh-Dole “policies.” The patents are not subject to Bayh-Dole. The Cohen-Boyer invention has nothing to do with Bayh-Dole. Continue reading

Posted in Bayh-Dole, Bozonet, History | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

The Basic Policy Question Behind Bayh-Dole

There’s one simple issue:

Should the federal government subsidize with public funding for nonprofit research the creation of patent monopolies?

There it is. The answer that has dominated for thirty-five years is “Yes.” How comfortable are you with that? Gut-level? Reasoning? If the answer is so obviously “Yes,” then why doesn’t anyone come out and state the proposition bluntly? What’s to fear? Why hide it? Why not out and say, “The best thing the federal government can do is to provide public funding that offsets the expense and risk of private speculation on the future value of patents to exclude competition and enable maximum pricing, especially in areas of acute public need, such as healthcare”? Why not call it “federal welfare for patent speculators”? Why not add, “And it is an inspired idea for nonprofit institutions to become part of this speculation on patents”?

I want to put an edge on this policy issue because it is frequently obscured in abstractions, truisms, and fantasy history. In its obscured form, the policy issue comes across as something more like this:

How can the public benefit from the results of federally supported research if those results are made available to all and therefore provide no incentive for private risk capital to develop them into useful and beneficial products?

That is, without speculation on the future value of patents on federally supported research inventions to attract private investment capital, the public cannot benefit and all that investment by the public in research is wasted. Without commercialization, public research funding is wasted. Without nonprofit institutions taking ownership of patentable inventions to secure patents to be offered to attract private investment capital willing to pay the nonprofits a fair market value for those patents, public research funding is wasted. Nonprofit patenting for the enticement of speculative investors on the future value of those patents–speculators who would otherwise not invest–becomes the reason-for-being for federally sponsored research.

This is the world view that dominates the university patent administration community. Continue reading

Posted in Bayh-Dole, Bozonet, Policy, Sponsored Research, Technology Transfer | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Institutional patent derangement syndrome

The discussion of university ownership of patents on inventions made in faculty-led research invariably adopts the singular. Consider one invention at one university. Now, doesn’t it make sense that university administrators should take over that invention for the good of the people? Shouldn’t they, not some poor inventor, file patent applications? Shouldn’t these administrators, not some foolish inventor, decide who should receive the benefit of a patent monopoly and thus be induced to spend their money on making beneficial products for the people and not for whatever other wasteful thing they might do with their money? Shouldn’t these administrators, and not some greedy inventor, take the lion’s share of whatever–if any–money gets made from their university research results, so that administrators have ever more money with which to finance more patent applications and thus serve the public with more and more beneficial products? Should not inventors be pleased with these results and not desire to have control of such inventions, given that they work for the public good and administrators, not inventors, are best positioned to represent that public good?

Somewhere in this mess of questions, you see the argument. Institutions that host research will do a better job managing patents on research inventions than will anyone else–better than the inventors, better than the investigators in the project, better than outside invention management organizations, better than companies squarely in whatever lines of business for which the inventions might have application, better than a professional society or standards organization or nonprofit foundation. The argument does not depend on an institution making an effort to have the specialized resources necessary to deal with any particular research invention–the argument is general. Institutions that host research should control the inventive results of that research–because they will be better at it (without regard to their administrators’ talents and resources) than anyone else. Continue reading

Posted in Bozonet, Policy, Sponsored Research, Technology Transfer | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

We are not talking about the rainbows

A while ago, Research Enterprise argued that the “manufactured substantially” requirement in Bayh-Dole, for all its gesture toward American manufacturing, is a nearly empty requirement. Absurdly narrow, easy to circumvent, waivable by federal agencies (“we tried and failed” or “we didn’t bother even to try”–both okay excuses), unenforced, backed by march-in procedures so narrow and convoluted that no agency has ever marched-in for non-compliance.

In a nutshell, section 204 reflects the characteristics of Bayh-Dole in general. Bayh-Dole exists to permit the federal government to subsidize the patent medicine industry by means of patent monopolies on publicly funded research.

This claim is clear from the history of federal patent policy. We may start with the pharma boycott of the Public Health Service in the early 1960s, move to the NIH use of the Harbridge House report to restart the IPA program in 1968, note the fact that the IPA program itself was an end-run around executive branch patent policy (and PHS policy). When the NIH was blocked trying to expand the IPA program to all government agencies and the IPA program shut down in 1978 for doing sweetheart exclusive licenses with pharma, we get Bayh-Dole doing much the same thing, introduced in 1979, passed in 1980, effective mid-1981.

We can also see the pipeline in the mechanics of Bayh-Dole. For all the rainbows that appear to be about “protecting” the public, the rainbows end up being political fantasy to dissuade anyone from challenging the pipeline by which publicly funded inventions are assigned (under the cover of exclusive patent licenses that in fact assign) to pharmaceutical companies or to companies formed by speculative investors to sell out, eventually, to pharmaceutical companies.

Bayh-Dole’s rainbows don’t operate. Continue reading

Posted in Bayh-Dole | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Some reading for technology transfer professionals

Every so often I have asked people what articles ought to be required reading for people in university technology transfer. One great suggestion is David Teece’s “Profiting from technological innovation: Implications for integration, collaboration, licensing and public policy.

Another has to be Benoît Godin’s work on the history of the concept of innovation. “The Linear Model of Innovation: The Historical Construction of an Analytical Framework,” for instance. But most anything by Godin is worth the read. Benoît Godin has two rooms full of books on innovation, stacked floor to ceiling.

For general innovation stuff, you might start with these:

Kevin Ashton, How to Fly a Horse: The Secret History of Creation, Invention, and Discovery
Scott Berkun, The Myths of Innovation
Jane Jacobs, The Economy of Cities
Steven Johnson, Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation
Matt Ridley, The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves
Continue reading

Posted in Technology Transfer | Tagged , | Leave a comment

University of Connecticut patent practice hash, 4

So now back to UConn’s patent policy claim. Look at it again:

Under Connecticut state law, the University owns all inventions created by employees in the performance of employment with the University or created with University resources or funds administered by the University (“University Inventions”).

It’s simply not true. “Created” does not show up in the state law. The state law uses “conceived,” “conceived or developed, “emerges.” The invention “vests” with the university. The university does not own the invention until assigned. State law authorizes the university to own and limits the scope of that ownership claim by reciting the situations in which the university can require assignment. The university’s patent policy, however, does not respect those limits–and that’s unacceptably awful.

And now garble: “by employees in the performance of employment with the University.” What can we make of that? What does “with the University” mean? For that matter, what does the policy mean by “employment”? The state law is fussily clear about Category A inventions–“customary or assigned duties.” “In the performance of employment” is nonsense written by someone with fantasizing about rainbows and dancing hippos. Clearly, the university’s policy overreaches.

There’s no mention in the state law of “funds administered by the University”–state law’s treatment of “at university expense” is not the same thing at all. Money provided by a donor or sponsor in support of a project is not “at university expense.” Same for “University resources.” State law identifies only with the “aid” of “equipment,” “facilities,” and “personnel.” Again, the patent policy generalizes without authority.

In all, the UConn patent policy is a con job. Continue reading

Posted in Bayh-Dole, Policy, Stanford v Roche | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

University of Connecticut patent practice hash, 3

Here’s UConn’s policy on invention ownership:

Under Connecticut state law, the University owns all inventions created by employees in the performance of employment with the University or created with University resources or funds administered by the University (“University Inventions”).

No definition there of “invention.” So we go to Connecticut General Statutes, 10a-110a:

“invention” means any invention or discovery and shall be divided into the following categories: A. Any invention conceived by one employee solely, or by employees jointly; B. any invention conceived by one or more employees jointly with one or more other persons; C. any invention conceived by one or more persons not employees.

Not much help here, either. “Invention” means “any invention or discovery.” Invention means invention, dammit. The categories are fussy bureaucracy at their fussiest. Moloch state drinks Moloch beer. Continue reading

Posted in Bayh-Dole, Policy | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment