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A Tweak or Two

Howard Markel from the University of Michigan argues that it is time to re-think the Bayh-Dole Act. "A review of its origins and consequences supports the idea that policies governing the fast-changing worlds of medicine and biotechnology merit frequent reappraisal and reform," he writes at the New England Journal of Medicine.

The Bayh-Dole Act, passed and signed into law at the end of the Carter administration, allows universities, companies, and researchers to patent and commercialize findings made through federally funded research. The act, Markel writes, was intended to help shake off "the economic doldrums of the 1970s."

Markel says, though, that the legislation didn't address a number of key issues: who should benefit from basic discoveries about nature or the human body and how can science move forward if all discoveries are patented?

"Profits and patents can be powerful incentives for scientists, businesspeople, and universities, but new and ongoing risks — including high prices that limit access to lifesaving technologies, reduced sharing of scientific data, marked shifts of focus from basic to applied research, and conflicts of interests for doctors and academic medical centers — should be mitigated or averted through revisions of the law," he adds. "All Americans should be able to share in the bounties of federally funded biomedical research."