Crack addict: University Inc.

More than 25 years after the Bayh-Dole Act came into force, Members of the Subcommittee on Technology & Innovation met to discuss the future of the law. The law allows universities to patent inventions that result from government funded R&D. Inside HigherEd reports that most members agreed that circumstances have changed the last 25 years. Competition is coming from China and India, instead of Germany and Japan. Technology is now more complex, with technological innovations being based on a bundle of patents instead of a few. And…universities have become competitors not just collaborators. This last point was observed by Susan Butts, the senior director of external science and technology programs at Dow Chemical.

She agreed with other members that there was a potential for more collaboration between universities and industry, especially since private funding for research and development has increased over the years. But, she said, a primary obstacle to more partnerships is the potential for disputes over intellectual property.

At the heart of the choice faced by universities is whether they should opt for as many patent royalties as possible, or get in on the ground floor with partners from various industries. (Lemley said one IT official had referred to universities as “crack addicts,” hooked on royalties.) Butts argued that licensing revenues are not growing quickly enough to fill the “funding gap,” a reality that would necessitate more private partnerships.American universities, she said, “in stark contrast with most foreign universities, have become substantially less attractive as research partners for companies.

As U.S. universities increasingly focus on controlling intellectual property and maximizing their revenues from licensing inventions, they have become more like competitors than partners to companies that sponsor research with their faculty and students.” The result, she said, is that many companies choose instead to work with a foreign university where there will be less negotiations and more of a willingness to be flexible with intellectual property.

Is this a case of University Inc. going too far in their corporate drift? …or just a case of business fearing more competition?

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