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  • Writer's pictureMichelle Walker

Growth Industry: Technology Transfer

The librarians at Indiana University sent some content my way that highlighted what I had experienced working at the University of Pittsburgh. Institutions of higher education, particularly larger schools, have staff, policies, strategy, and resources specifically for the development, management, and transfer of innovation from the researcher(s) to industry.

The Bayh-Dole Act of 1980 transformed the value of higher ed innovation. It clarified that nonprofit (i.e. nonprofit university and college) innovation, specifically intellectual property rights, remained with the researcher and/or its institution. The underpinning of this change to federally funded contracts is presented as a public interest change – that inventors, as owners, are best situated to make innovations available to the public or marketplace. Prior to Bayh-Dole, federal agencies used different policies and standards for ownership of innovations, particularly patents.

Though patent management existed in higher education before Bayh-Dole, the Act opened a new opportunity for innovation licensing and tech transfer from nonprofits to industry. Tech transfer is such a specialized role in research institutions that an entire profession has emerged along with a professional society for continuing education.

The Bayh-Dole act is directed at nonprofit ownership of innovation developed with federal dollars. Higher education certainly had a head start in understanding how that could apply to innovation across research disciplines at their institutions. But, in general, based on what I had found in the literature, the Act seems to not have had much impact on how other nonprofit organizations think about or manage innovation even if it is federally funded.

Is that because higher ed institutions and healthcare receive the majority of direct federal funds? If there’s an entire professional field (technology transfer) in one nonprofit sub-sector how come it hasn’t transferred to other nonprofits? More questions. Few answers.

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