This Month in IP: The Impact of the Bayh-Dole Act

The Bayh-Dole Act revolutionized U.S. innovation by decentralizing the licensing process for federally funded research. By giving universities and other nonprofits the ability to license their researchers’ discoveries to the private sector, the Bayh-Dole Act incentivized them to turn their cutting-edge research into tangible products. The law’s impact has proven substantial, contributing nearly $2 trillion to America’s GDP and supporting 6.5 million jobs between 1996 and 2020.

Central to the success of innovation is IP. Without a reliable and predictable patent system, innovation does not happen at scale. Historical examples reinforce this point, as virtually every impactful invention is patented. Consider some of the many inventions made possible through the Bayh-Dole Act, none of which would have likely happened if the government had the right to appropriate the technology at will:

  • 2021: A team of University of Nebraska-Lincoln researchers including Carrick Detweiler, Sebastian Elbaum, James Higgins, Christian Laney, Craig Allen, Dirac Twidwell, and Evan Michael Beachly patented a groundbreaking firefighting drone. The technology was licensed to the start-up Drone Amplified, led by Detweiler, to manufacture and deploy the drone. Since then, the drone has been used to combat forest fires across several states and named a “Top 12 Made in America” invention by the U.S. Department of Interior. As of 2022, the global firefighting drone market was valued at $1.3 billion and projected to exceed $2.75 billion by 2030.
  • 2002: University of Wisconsin researchers Paul Bach-y-Rita and Kurt Kaczmarek patented an oral electronic vision aid that helps blind people perceive their surroundings via electrical pulses stimulated on their tongue. Through the university’s tech transfer office, the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation, the technology was licensed to Wicab – a company founded by Bach-y-Rita – and commercialized as the “BrainPort Vision Pro” device. Today, the global assistive technology market is valued at $23 billion and estimated to reach $31.7 billion by 2030.
  • 1990: University of Minnesota researchers Jim Luby and David Bedford secured a patent for the Honeycrisp apple. The university then initiated licensing agreements with nurseries nationwide to propagate Honeycrisp apple trees. Today, the Honeycrisp ranks among the top six apple varieties cultivated in the United States, claiming a position in the top three in terms of production volume. By 2018, Honeycrisp sales neared $1 billion.
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