Feds missing out on tech, ideas

Intellectual Property: Navigating Through Commercial Waters

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Because federal employees have not received sufficient training in sharing intellectual property rights with the private sector, the government is missing out on new technologies and ideas as companies and universities take a pass on competing for federal research and development funding, experts told Congress July 17.

Under the Bayh-Dole Act of 1980 and subsequent presidential orders, the private sector can hold on to much of the intellectual property it develops using federal funding, allowing companies to sell products they develop and universities to publish research. Additionally, other agencies—most notably the Defense Department—have "other transaction" authority that exempts R&D projects from many contracting requirements.

However, agencies have not adequately trained the program managers and contracting officers that oversee R&D projects on how to create contracts using the Bayh-Dole or "other transaction" language, said Jack Brock, managing director of acquisition and sourcing management at the General Accounting Office. Brock was testifying before the House Government Reform Committee's Technology and Procurement Policy Subcommittee.

In April, DOD issued an acquisition guide on "Intellectual Property: Navigating Through Commercial Waters," and now the department is working to integrate the ideas in the guide into its acquisition training program, said Deidre Lee, director of Defense procurement.

But the fact that many research contracts do not reflect an understanding of the intellectual property regulations is keeping many of the top universities from signing on for federal research, said Christopher Hill, vice provost for research and professor of public policy and technology at George Mason University.

In an informal poll of 11 other research institutions—among them Pennsylvania State University, Georgia Institute of Technology and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology—nine said that they would not do research for agencies that include a common clause that prohibits the participants from publishing their findings, Hill said.

And other federal research-specific clauses scare many commercial lawyers enough that they discourage their companies from participating in any government research contracts, said Richard Kuyath, a government contract expert in the general counsel office at 3M Corp.

"The real loss from nonparticipation...is loss of alternatives, of ideas," said Richard Carroll of the Small Business Technology Coalition.

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