Sharing good ideas privately

The Defense Department wants to educate its employees on the subtleties of sharing the ideas and inventions that result from federal research funding to help stem a growing belief in the private sector that it doesn't pay to share ideas with agencies.

Many top companies and universities are saying no to competing for federal research contracts because those contracts are being written almost entirely in the government's favor when it comes to intellectual prop.erty rights, officials told the House Government Reform Committee's Technology and Procurement Policy Subcommittee last month.

Companies bypass competitions because they often can't use their innovations in future commercial products, and university researchers cannot publish their discoveries.

"Many firms that are the leaders in developing cutting-edge technologies are currently unwilling to do business with DOD," said Deidre Lee, director of Defense procurement. "DOD needs the best technological solutions and is adversely affected when these firms will not do business with DOD."

Existing regulations should create a more cooperative environment, but only if agencies train their people how to use them correctly, Jack Brock said at the hearing. Brock is managing director of acquisition and sourcing management at the General Accounting Office.

If agencies properly understand laws such as the Bayh-Dole Act of 1980 and regulations such as the Defense Department's "other transaction" authority, then the government's best interest would be served by protecting the private sector, he said.

"If you don't do that, you're not going to get access," Brock said. "It's pretty much that simple."

Agencies are picking up on the need for training. In April, DOD issued an acquisition guide on "Intellectual Prop.erty: Navigating Through Commercial Waters," and Lee said the department is integrating those ideas into its acquisition training program.

That training will be aimed at DOD employees ranging from department attorneys to contracting personnel. Lee said the Pentagon is exploring whether to incorporate such instruction into existing training courses as well as developing new stand-alone modules that will be offered online and in person.

The guide is available on the Web sites of the offices of Defense Procurement and Acquisition Reform for other agencies to use, Lee said.

Laws and regulations may need clarification, but putting the DOD guide into use — the first of its kind — could go a long way toward resolving the intellectual prop.erty issue, said Richard Kuyath, a government contract expert at 3M. "This guide is an excellent step in the right direction... [but] the guide is so complex it may be little used in practice," he said.

Since the department still must update its own training, there are no plans yet to expand to the greater federal contracting community. But within DOD, officials expect to see improvements that will bring reluctant researchers back into the government arena. "As DOD acquisition personnel become better trained, they will adopt a more flexible approach to intellectual property requirements," Lee said. "This will enable contractors to negotiate contract provisions that provide the intellectual prop.erty protection that they need when doing business with the government."

DOD officials also have ideas for changing the Bayh-Dole Act, the "other transactions" authority and other legislation overseeing procurement. But Lee said that officials have not yet submitted any of those proposals to Congress.

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