Monday 16 May 2016

NIH and licensing startups

There's an interesting critique on the website of the Regulator Affairs Professional Society concerning the US National Institute of Health's policy of providing exclusive licenses to start up companies in a range of technologies. The author of the article refers to a lobbying group Knowledge Economy International who have complained about the lack of transparency in granting such licenses. Apparently, little is known about the terms and conditions under which the licenses are granted and some of the companies to which the licenses have been awarded appear to lack office space and indeed a website.

This blogger has only had limited dealings with the NIH over the years, but has dealt extensively with other technology transfer organisations. Most are only too glad to even find one company interested in taking a license to a technology developed with public funds. It's rare that several companies compete with each other to get access to the technology. In some cases it would be interesting to know more details about the final agreement, in order to compare it with other agreements, but there seems to be little benefit to be obtained when there is no other alternative.

The NIH system does have one safeguard to prevent abuse of the system. The institute is obliged to publish in the Federal Register details of the company applying for the exclusive license and other companies are invited to express their interest. It is apparently rare for any company to do so. On the other hand the time frame for expressing interest is a mere fifteen days and it would be a rare group that could put forward a detailed business plan in that short time frame.

There is always a concern that taxpayer's funds are not being used properly. The reality is, however, in technology transfer that there are a large number of potential opportunities for exploiting government-funded research, but few companies prepared to take on the risk. It would seem unproductive to suggest that a greater administrative burden be placed on those few companies prepared to take such risks.

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