The Subcommittee on Technology and Innovation of the US House of Representatives’ Committee on Science and Technology plans to hold informational hearings on the Bayh-Dole Act next week, according to the executive director of the Association of University Technology Managers.
Although the hearings are “purely within the oversight duties” of the subcommittee and are not perceived as a threat to the Bayh-Dole Act, AUTM will hold a special teleconference for select members this week to update them on the status of the hearings, provide talking points on Bayh-Dole, and better educate them on how to communicate their concerns to government officials, the director said.
In an e-mail sent late last month to select members of AUTM who live in states in which members of the House subcommittee reside, Vicki Loise, executive director of AUTM, wrote that the subcommittee has scheduled informational hearings on Bayh-Dole for July 17.
In the e-mail, Loise wrote that “members of Congress put great value on the voices of the universities in their states,” and announced a special AUTM teleconference, to be held on July 10, to discuss issues related to the hearings and instruct participants on what they can do to preserve the Bayh-Dole Act.
In addition, the e-mail directed AUTM members to the organization’s website to review preparatory documents including talking points for the Bayh-Dole Act, a template letter for members to send to their legislators, and a list of members of the House Science and Technology Committee, House Judiciary Committee, and Senate Judiciary Committee.
A spokesperson for the House Science and Technology Committee could not confirm that Bayh-Dole hearings had been scheduled, and thus far the website of the committee has not posted information on the hearings.
However, this week, Loise told BTW that AUTM became aware of the hearings because one of its board members, Arundeep Pradhan — who is also the director of technology and research collaborations at Oregon Health and Science University — had been invited to testify at the hearings.
Rumors had been circulating for several months within the tech-transfer community, and specifically within the AUTM membership, that various government committees may be holding hearings on the Bayh-Dole Act. However, hearings have yet to be officially scheduled.
In March, a director of a top US university-based tech-transfer office, who wished to remain anonymous because of his proximity to the situation, told BTW that the Senate judiciary committee staff had informed the university community of a hearing scheduled for later that month about university tech-transfer practice, and specifically noted that patent reform would be raised and that Bayh-Dole “was floated as [a] possible topic by legislative staff.” (See BTW, 3/12/2007) Such a hearing was never held, however.
More recently, last month at the AUTM Eastern Region meeting in Washington, DC, Jon Soderstrom, president-elect of AUTM and managing director of Yale’s Office of Cooperative Research, told audience members that a Senate judiciary committee would likely be holding Bayh-Dole hearings “in the near future.” (See BTW 6/11/2007).
This week, Loise told BTW that the Bayh-Dole Act has been brought up as a potential point of discussion in government arenas since the beginning of the year.
“Sometimes it’s positive and sometimes it isn’t,” Loise said. “Most recently it came up in early March when the Senate judiciary committee was planning hearings on Bayh-Dole. [Those hearings] were of concern to AUTM, primarily because no one from the university community had yet been asked to testify and to represent how Bayh-Dole … benefited both university communities and communities as a whole.
“Quite frankly, we were also a little behind in getting ourselves together to react,” Loise added. “It also happened to come on the heels of our annual meeting, so it could not have been worse timing for us. Fortunately or unfortunately, some other issues took the attention of the Senate judiciary committee, and so these hearings got put on hold.”
Loise added that AUTM believes that Senate judiciary hearings on Bayh-Dole will likely still take place in the fall. In addition, she said, AUTM has obtained information indicating that a House judiciary committee may eventually hold hearings on Bayh-Dole.
“It’s clear to me that the [subcommittee] want[s] to make sure that folks know that this is not meant to be a threat to Bayh-Dole. This is purely within their oversight duties.”
Tech Transfer Under the Microscope
Congressional movement on Bayh-Dole comes at a time when several public policy issues of interest to tech-transfer professionals are being debated.
Two weeks ago, the House subcommittee on technology and innovation, chaired by Congressman David Wu (D-Ore.), held hearings that reviewed the effectiveness and efficiency of the Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer funding programs. The program is currently up for reauthorization.
Of even greater concern to tech-transfer professionals is the Patent Reform Act of 2007, a bill currently in the markup stage in the House and Senate that calls for sweeping changes in the US Patent System, several of which have drawn criticism from members of both the tech-transfer and biotechnology communities (see BTW 6/4/2007, 5/14/2007, and 4/23/2007).
When taken into consideration with a number of recent Supreme Court rulings on patent issues and a recent report by the Kauffman Foundation criticizing university tech-transfer practices, the patent reform legislation and potential Bayh-Dole hearings have caused many members of the university tech-transfer community to feel as if their profession is under attack.
However, according to Loise, next week’s subcommittee hearings are not yet perceived as a threat to the Bayh-Dole Act.
“It’s clear to me that the [subcommittee] want[s] to make sure that folks know that this is not meant to be a threat to Bayh-Dole,” she said. “This is purely within their oversight duties.”
Nevertheless, AUTM is now being proactive in preparing for an eventual debate on Bayh-Dole, starting with this week’s teleconference.
“The intent of this teleconference is to bring members up to date regarding what is happening on [Capitol] Hill as it concerns Bayh-Dole,” Loise said. “It’s also … to give our members talking points on how Bayh-Dole benefits the district and the university community as a whole, and how they can work with their federal relations officers on campus to communicate this message to their congressmen and senators, so that when the point comes when it is necessary for that message to be brought forward in a strong way, we’re prepared to do so.”
Loise said the call is also part of an increased effort by AUTM to be more of a resource to university government relations officers and to members of Congress, and to encourage AUTM members to establish an open dialogue with these officials.
“If they happen to be going to [Washington] to schedule a meeting with their congressman, if they can, they should simply bring [their congressman] up to date on what’s happening at their university,” Loise said. “This isn’t something that our directors typically do on a regular basis, so we’re trying to provide them with the resources to get them kick-started.”