In 1980, Senators Birch Bayh (D-IN) and Bob Dole (R-KS) drafted the Patent and Trademark Law Amendments Act, which eventually became known as the “Bayh-Dole Act.”
The two Senators recognized that scientists benefiting from federal funding were routinely making breakthrough discoveries — but by and large, those innovations would go on to gather dust. The reason? Discoveries that benefited from federal funding were not being effectively managed; the government was taking them away from the inventing organization to make them available to anyone through non-exclusive licensing.
The Bayh-Dole Act revolutionized technology transfer as it allowed universities, small businesses, and nonprofits to capitalize on their research and turn their discoveries into viable consumer products. By ensuring that academic institutions and companies would own inventions they make with government-support, Senators Birch and Bayh spurred the transformation of laboratory discoveries into new products benefitting the American taxpayer– and citizens throughout the world.
In 1978, Purdue University contacted Senator Birch Bayh’s Judiciary Committee staff about a patent problem they were having. The meeting included Howard Bremer and Norman Latker and led to the introduction of what was to become the Bayh-Dole Act. Howard and Norm helped us craft the Bayh-Dole Act which introduced the incentives of the patent system– and decentralized technology management– to take these inventions from the laboratory into the marketplace where they now improve lives around the world.
Howard was part of what’s rightly called The Greatest Generation—those who survived the Great Depression, fought and won World War II and then came home to build the most prosperous nation in history. Howard represented a rapidly receding era when integrity, modesty and personal responsibility were commonly held virtues.
Howard’s efforts were critical in the success of enacting Bayh-Dole and over the years, he remained a steadfast defender pushing back against the critics of the patent system. Whenever he saw misleading attacks launched against Bayh-Dole, he would not sit idly by, but went straight to work on a response which was always factual, and never stooped to personal attacks.
Norm was the patent counsel at the National Institutes of Health in the 1960s. He realized that billions of dollars’ worth of federally funded research was going unused because the government took patent rights away from universities and others creating inventions with agency support. Norm envisioned a more effective system to take these discoveries off of the agency shelves, and transform them into useful products. Working with the founders of what became AUTM, the program became the forerunner of the Bayh-Dole Act.
When the law finally passed, Bayh and Dole entrusted crafting the implementing regulations to Norm’s capable hands. He then spent two years successfully fighting off efforts by the bureaucracy to undermine the law.
Niels Reimers actively supported Bayh-Dole and developed the Stanford technology transfer model, which he later took to MIT. Niels licensed the Cohen-Boyer invention, which is widely considered to have jump started the U.S. biotechnology industry. The impact of Cohen-Boyer alerted American companies to the value of universities as research partners; Bayh-Dole made this, and similar federally funded discoveries economic, not just scientific, assets.
As Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Technology during the Reagan Administration, the development and oversight of regulations implementing Bayh-Dole came under Dr. Merrifield’s jurisdiction. Quickly realizing the importance of the law, Dr. Merrifield explained to the White House that it was something the President should support. He also gave Norman Latker full support to push back against efforts to weaken the regulations.
Dr. Merrifield was a rare public servant who was not afraid to take risks and use his position to advance the public good. He was not intimidated when challenged by more powerful agencies and never backed down when things got rough. Without his leadership, Bayh-Dole would not have survived its infancy.