Opinions and Editorials

Oct. 20, 2020

Detroit News: A 40-year-old Law Keeps Fueling Research Innovation by Robin Rasor

This fall, tens of millions of Americans will get vaccinated against influenza — but they won’t all experience a prick in the arm. Instead, many will take FluMist, the painless nasal flu vaccine.

FluMist is just one of many breakthrough innovations that originated at the University of Michigan, where I served as managing director of licensing within the Office of Tech Transfer for over a decade. I now serve as executive director of Duke University’s Office of Licensing & Ventures which has a similar portfolio of innovations including Krystexxa, a treatment for refractory gout.

Over my many years at three universities, I’ve seen countless, life-changing discoveries come out of university research labs, the majority of them resulting from federal funding. But these research discoveries would have never made it off of college campuses if it weren’t for bipartisan legislation passed 40 years ago — the Bayh-Dole Act.

The Bayh-Dole Act enables universities, nonprofits, and other publicly-funded institutions to patent their discoveries — and license those patents to private companies. Before it became law, the government retained the patents on all taxpayer-funded research. Much of it never saw the light of day.

Bayh-Dole is based on a simple insight: Universities excel at basic research, but they lack the resources and expertise to turn those discoveries into functioning products. Private companies, on the other hand, are willing to take big risks — but they’re not well suited to perform extremely early-stage research.