and a series of laws, beginning in 1980 with the Bayh-Dole Act, have encouraged the pooling of public and private research funds (see box). This environment has been favorable for the development of small, research-intensive biotechnology companies with close links to universities. Indeed, most of the early biotechnology companies were founded by university professors, and many universities now offer ''incubator space'' for start-up biotechnology companies working in collaboration with university researchers. Pharmaceutical companies are also increasingly eager to establish collaborations with university researchers.

Changing Direction in Federal Technology Law

In 1980, Congress passed both the Bayh-Dole Act1 and the Stevenson-Wydler Technology Innovation Act2. Together these Acts allowed government contractors, small businesses, and nonprofit organizations to retain certain patent rights in government-sponsored research and permitted the funded entity to transfer the technology to third parties.

The stated intent of Bayh-Dole was to ensure that the patented results of federally-funded research would be broadly and rapidly available for all scientific investigation. Bayh-Dole effectively shifted federal policy from a position of putting the results of government-sponsored research directly into the public domain for use by all, to a pro-patent position that stressed the need for exclusive rights as an incentive for industry to undertake the costly investment necessary to bring new products to market. The policy was based on a belief that private entities, given the incentives of the patent system, would do a better job of commercializing inventions than federal agencies. The Act for the first time established a largely uniform government-wide policy on the treatment of inventions made during federally supported R and D.

Stevenson-Wydler is the basic federal technology law. A principal policy established by that Act is that agencies should ensure the full use of the results of the nation's federal investment in R and D. Another is that the law requires federal laboratories to take an active role in the transfer of federally-owned or originated technology to both state and local governments and to the private sector. Stevenson-Wydler required agencies to establish Offices of Research and Technology Applications at their federal laboratories, and to devote a percentage of their R and D budgets to technology transfer.


Tribble, JL. 1995. Gene ownership versus access: meeting the needs. In: Genes for the Future: Discovery, Ownership, Access. Nat'l Agricultural Biotechnology Council, Ithaca, New York.

Rudolph, L. 1994. Overview of Federal Technology Transfer. Risk: Health, Safety & Environment 5: 133–142.


Pub. Law No. 96-517, 6(a), 94 Stat. 3015, 3019–27 (1980).


Pub. Law No. 96-480, 94 Stat. 2311 (1980).

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