Bob Dole’s 89th birthday on Sunday got me thinking about the significance of the Bayh-Dole Act of 1980 and the history (and future) of university-based innovation commercialization. My first job after law school was working as an aide to the Director of Policy of Bob Dole’s 1996 presidential campaign. It was in that position that I first heard about Bayh-Dole and the simple idea behind it: give universities, rather than the federal government, the intellectual property and commercialization rights that result from federal research funding.
The impact of this bipartisan legislation has been transformative for American innovation and economic progress over the three decades since its passage. At the time Bayh-Dole was enacted, the US government held over 28,000 patents, with less than 5% of those ever getting commercialized. Since then many thousands of new products and companies have been created based on university research, including numerous critical healthcare advances such as synthetic penicillin, the hepatitis B vaccine, and key therapies for cancer and Crohn’s disease.
By one estimate, 30% of the value of the NASDAQ stock market is rooted in federally-funded university research, and the Economist has written that Bayh-Dole was “[p]ossibly the most inspired piece of legislation to be enacted in America over the past half-century,” and that it “[m]ore than anything…helped reverse America’s precipitous slide into industrial irrelevance.”
Yet as much as Bayh-Dole can be credited with tremendously accelerating the commercialization of university-developed innovations, many studies have also demonstrated that this commercialization can still be done much more optimally. In particular, while tens of billions in federal funding is spent on university research, there are comparatively few resources available for building prototypes or conducting proof-of-concept activities to translate university research into potentially commercialization-ready inventions.
The dearth of this so-called “gap funding” has become a critical bottleneck in research commercialization. And at Innovocracy, we are working with universities and inventors to see if the new simple idea of our time – the power that can be achieved from harnessing the wisdom and resources of a “crowd” – can help ameliorate this significant shortcoming.
In some ways you can think of what we do as providing a platform for micro-gapfunding, which enables each one of us to play a role in bringing into existence the university-originating technologies and solutions that we believe would be most useful to society. We hope this may be another example of a simple concept having a historic and life-enhancing impact, and we look forward to working with all of you to turn this vision into a reality.