Bayh-Dole Act Turns 40August 11, 2020

The Patent and Trademark Law Amendments Act, commonly known as the Bayh-Dole Act, was passed by Congress in 1980.  The primary sponsors were Senators Birch Bayh (D. Indiana) and Senator Robert Dole (R. Kansas).  This act relates to research funded by the federal government.  Prior to passage of the Act, inventions developed with federal dollars had to be assign to the federal government.  This created a disincentive to the commercialization of such inventions.  The Bayh-Dole Act allowed as non-profit organizations, universities, and small business federal contractors, to retain ownership of their inventions, even though federal funding was used for the research and development.  The Act also authorized federal agencies to grant exclusive licenses to inventions owned by the government.

Following World War II, the government had increased spending on R & D, based in part on a 1945 report from the Office of Scientific Research and Development which stated,  “Scientific progress is one essential key to our security as a nation, to our better health, to more jobs, to a higher standard of living, and to our cultural progress.”  By the 1970’s, the government was investing approximately $75 billion annually for sponsored R & D.  Only 5% of over 28,000 government-owned patents were commercialized.

Last week, former Senator Dole, now 97 years old, published a short opinion regarding the Act.  He explained that the Act “set the stage for the public-private partnerships that are essential to developing a vaccine and effective treatments against the novel coronavirus.”  According to Dole, the purpose of the Act was to “spur the interaction between public and private research so that patients would receive the benefits of innovative science sooner.”

The private sector spends 10-100 times the amount of amount of federal funding to bring an invention to market. The Act created the incentive for such investments by giving ownership of the patents to the universities and others who turn their research into licensed commercial products.

In conclusion, Senator Dole noted the bipartisan teamwork with Senator Bayh that led to enactment of their legislation, and urged today’s leaders to work together without partisan political bickering to defeat the virus.

Kirk Hartung is a patent attorney and chair of the mechanical  and  electrical practice group at McKee, Voorhees & Sease, PLC.  For additional information please visit or contact Kirk directly via email at

← Return to Filewrapper

Stay in Touch

Receive the latest news and updates from us and our attorneys.

Sign Up