Longstanding federal measure has helped ag, needs to stay intact, advocate says

The Bayh-Dole Act, bipartisan legislation approved 40 years ago, has helped American agriculture and other industries by establishing a proven formula so universities and non-profit institutions to secure patent rights on government-funded research.

Kevin Walters, a strategic research coordinator with the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation, said agriculture is among the major beneficiaries of biotechnology.

Biopharmaceuticals for the livestock industry and growers with traditional farm crops have benefited. The seeds of another popular product, Honeycrisp apples, came to fruition because of the federal Bayh-Dole Act.

The University of Wisconsin and other land-grant universities conduct research and investment for agriculture, Walters said, but it does not tell farmers what to do. Only they can decide what works best for them.

Before the 1980 Bayh-Dole Act, there was no simple path from academic laboratory to consumer, according to a new release from AUTM, a non-profit that educates, promotes and inspires professionals to support the development of academic research that changes the world and drives innovation forward. AUTM notes that by encouraging transfer from universities to the private sector, this seemingly simple reform laid the groundwork for extraordinary economic growth.

Between 1996 and 2017, Bayh-Dole contributed up to $865 billion to the United States gross national product and supported 5.9 million jobs.

“If you are a university researcher, Bayh-Dole allows your institution to keep the patent rights,” Walters said.

The act benefits researchers, keeps America’s technology at the forefront and keeps companies from trying to slow up the innovation process. The universities have proven to be great stewards and consumers have benefited from the innovation, he said.

However, with escalating pharmaceutical costs related to health care 35 congressional members have targeted the march-in-rights clause they say allows the government to impose price controls on end products that come out of the public-private technology transfer, according to AUTM. Other aspects of the proposed changes add additional administrative burdens and should be carefully considered for the impact on accelerating the commercialization of research.

Walters said high health costs are a concern to everyone but that criticism, if it ended the price control provision aspect of Bayh-Dole, will deter investments into research.

Research into pharmaceuticals is expensive and it requires a substantial risk commitment from universities and companies. “As the holder of the patents, we have no way of controlling the consumer price of a licensed product,” he said. “The government looks down on price-fixing.”

Walters agrees that rarely do sound bites tell a full story.

“The system is more complex than many people might think,” he said. “Too many restrictions can have unintended consequences and put a chill on innovation.”

A misconception is the Bayh-Dole protects large companies, which he says is not true because much of the research helps small businesses and companies, which in turn help consumers on Main Streets.

The public-private partnership has worked, Walters said, and Congress should not do something that could change the balance of investment and hamstring future research.

Dave Bergmeier can be reached at 620-227-1822 or [email protected].