Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Academic-Industry Patent Licensing

The US-based Biotechnology Industry Organisation has just released a fascinating study on the impact that academic technology transfer makes to the US economy. The study is limited to US universities, but is probably equally indicative of the impact that technology transfer makes in other countries. The study (available here) estimated that in the 18 years from 1996 to 2013 academic licensing boosted industry output by USD 1.18 trillion and US GDP by USD 518 billion, creating 3,824,000 US jobs.

The study concludes that the Bayh-Dole Act passed in 1980 which allowed universities to maintain the rights to US government sponsored research has contributed to this success. Prior to the passage of the act, no drugs had apparently been commercialised based on the results of the government R&D spending. Subsequently over 183 drugs have been developed, as was report by the New England Journal of Medicine in 2011 in this article. Unsurprisingly a number of countries have adopted similar laws.

The survey submits that absence the incentives of patent ownership and exclusive licences, companies and investors could not justify the effort in bringing these drugs to market. The results seem to be in contradiction to the study by Robin Feldman and Mark Lemley available here, which argued that licensing did not contribute to innovation. Gene Quinn of IP Watchdog argued very succinctly that that study was seriously flawed since it relied on a subjective survey of practitioners.

The argument about whether research funded by governments should be patented and licenced by private companies for their own benefit is one that has been running ever since this author carried out his own Ph.D. research. The latest study seems to demonstrate the value of allowing universities to patent and licence their own IP, even if the public has paid for the research through their tax dollars/euros. It’s probably a question of finding the balance - there may be some research that really should not be patented.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

I think that the Feldman and Lemley paper has been misunderstood by many. What they argue is that when patents owners approach companies AFTER the company has already developed a technology, little additional innovation occurs.

This is a big difference to a patent owner helping a company develop and commercialise a technology in the first place. Which is entirely consistent with the findings of the biotech paper, which I think is an excellent study.

I also don't see how surveying practitioners is a flawed methodology. If it is, the entire world of social science and consumer research is all wrong - and I find this very hard to believe.