Get out and Support Technology Transfer and the USICA!April 13, 2022

Research that is conducted at our many Universities has changed the lives of us all with valuable scientific advances that translate into commercial products. Public sector research has lead to ground breaking new technology such as gene editing, as well as cutting-edge mRNA Covid-19 vaccines. Other commercial products such as high-definition televisions, Google’s search algorithm, treatments for multiple sclerosis, breast cancer, and anxiety and depression all find their roots in research conducted at public universities.

This process is made possible by the Bayh Dole Act of 1980 that allows academic institutions to patent their discoveries and license them to companies. The companies then take significant risks to turn those early-stage insights into useful products. This law has helped transform the United States into the technological powerhouse it is today. A joint analysis conducted by the Association of University Technology Managers and the Biotechnology Industry Association, Economic Contributions of University/Nonprofit Inventions in the United States estimated that the economic impact of the commercialization of such innovations over a 22 year period (1996-2017) was 5.9 million jobs, $865 billion contribution to the U.S. GDP, and $1.7 trillion in U.S. Gross Output. Bayh-Dole has borne great fruit over 40 years at no cost to the taxpayer.

Before Bayh-Dole, the government retained the patents on any university discoveries developed with federal funding. That sounds laudable in theory, but in practice, it destroyed the incentives for private companies to invest in developing and refining universities’ research. Of the 28,000 patents the government stockpiled before 1980, it licensed less than 5 percent. Even worse, not a single new drug was created from National Institutes of Health (NIH) research when the patent rights were obtained.

Bayh-Dole ended that waste by allowing academic institutions and companies to own the patents that stemmed from their research. It restored the intended incentives of the patent system and spurred decades of American innovation.

Currently, these outcomes are the result of universities’ bearing the full cost of operating technology transfer offices.

For the first time since the enactment of Bayh-Dole, legislation passed last year by the U.S. Senate – the U.S. Innovation and Competitiveness Act (USICA) – includes several provisions designed to increase this commercialization of research by directly funding tech transfer resources. Those provisions (in Section 2109 of the bill) include:

    • Support eligible entities in building sustainable technology transfer capacity.
    • Provide training and support to scientists, engineers, and inventors on technology transfer, commercialization, and research protection.
    • Offset the costs of patenting and licensing research products.
    • Ensure the availability of staff, including technology transfer professionals and entrepreneurs-in-residence.
    • Awards of not more than $1,000,000 per fiscal year to an eligible entity.
    • Establish collaborative innovation resource centers that promote regional technology transfer and technology development activities.
    • Provide start-ups and small business concerns within the region with access to facilities, scientific infrastructure, personnel, and other assets as required for technology maturation.
    • Support entrepreneurial training for start-up and small business personnel.
    • Provide engineering and entrepreneurial experiences and hands-on training for students enrolled in participating institutions of higher education.

USICA is now in a House-Senate conference committee that will try to iron out differences between it and the America COMPETES Act, a bill which the House passed earlier this year that does not include the technology transfer provisions above.

Get involved to urge your state’s congressional delegation to include these provisions in the final version of this legislation:

Heidi S. Nebel is Managing Partner and Chair of the Chemical and Biotechnology Practice Group at McKee, Voorhees & Sease, PLC. For additional information please visit

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