Figure I27

Growth of invention disclosures and patent filings by universities after passage of the Bayh-Dole Act (Source: Association of University Technology Managers Licensing Survey: FY 2004).

the rate of a mere 250 a year; the data in Figure I.27 shows that this number has now grown to exceed 10,000 patent applications a year.

As an emerging technology, many of the patent applications that claim aspects of nanotechnology will be filed by universities through their technology-transfer offices. Development of the inventions that are disclosed and claimed will have been supported by any of a variety of government grants. In the United States, much of the funding for nanotechnology has been coordinated through the National Nanotechnology Initiative, an umbrella organization that cooperates with some twenty-five government agencies to harmonize efforts in promoting nanotechnology. Since its inception in 2001, over $6.5 billion has been invested in the organization.

This an impressive commitment by the public to support development of this technology. The funds that the public provides flow through the different government agencies as grants to university researchers, and the patent applications that result are owned by those universities. The universities in turn actively seek licensees in the form of start-up companies who will work to commercialize the technology. Many of these start-up companies will be formed by the professors and students who develop the technology at their universities, and who will be encouraged to contribute in this further way by the potential for further financial gain from their discoveries.

The experiences of the last twenty-five years have proven this to be an effective model in promoting the development of technology—and nano-technology will benefit from the confidence that now exists in this model. While decades had previously passed where it seemed somehow unfair that private ownership of intellectual property could result from public funding, the benefits of doing so are now clear: there is more rapid development and commercialization of new and useful technologies, and this development generates significant employment opportunities. These are two of the most important contributions that any government can make.

It is true that, under this model, the government will retain many rights in the intellectual property that results, but this is unlikely to deter much of the commercialization efforts. The government has shown restraint in exercising its march-in rights, so much so that it would now seem anomalous if it ever did. While such rights may have seemed advisable when the Bayh-Dole Act was enacted, there has been a general change in viewpoint. It now seems apparent that the objectives of effective commercialization are readily being achieved with the incentives that ownership provides without the need for government intervention to move them along.

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