Savage: New patent proposal would kill innovation across industries
As the 2024 general election nears, President Joe Biden is making dramatic policy announcements in an effort to energize the voter base. The latest proposal would open the door for the federal government to ransack intellectual property rights in an effort to — as the White House argues — lower drug costs.
In reality, the proposal would impact industries ranging from agriculture to energy — widely threatening free market innovation.
More specifically, the Biden administration is attempting to amend federal legislation that encourages public-private collaboration. The law gives universities, research institutions and other entities the opportunity to access federal dollars to partially fund research and development projects while still retaining control over associated patents.
Since the law’s passage, the extra boost of federal money into scientific research, product development, and technology has contributed to huge advances. Touchscreens via the University of Delaware, mapping the human genome and the creation of the first widely available web browser, Mosaic, are prime examples.
The trick to these successes is the free market. Beyond some financial support from Uncle Sam, universities, research institutions and companies that commercialize the work are left on their own to deploy innovations in the consumer or business arena. This hands-off relationship keeps free market profit incentives intact–encouraging future entrepreneurs and researchers to pursue further advances.
Biden’s proposal would upend this system and allow the government to march-in and seize patents owned by entities that used a penny of federal money for development. The White House argues it requires sweeping power to combat high drug prices. But, in practice, any realized benefits will be far outweighed by the consequences.
The policy will have a broad chilling effect on future innovation across industries. While 100% privately-funded research and development would continue under Biden’s plan, the university-innovation pipeline would be severely handicapped — and that pipeline is extensive.
One analysis finds 31% of new pharmaceuticals developed between 1998 and 2007 originated in a university lab. And since legislators stepped-in to encourage private-public teamwork in 1980, more than 23,000 patents have been filed by universities, fostering innovation across countless sectors. Another analysis finds academic technology transfers to the commercial market have contributed roughly $2 trillion to the U.S. economy since 1996.
Today, work is being done at the University of Michigan with the help of the Department of Energy to create semi-transparent solar cell technology to be used on farmland. The invention would allow us to produce renewable energy while also growing food on the same piece of property.
Under the White House’s policy, these types of innovations would be on the chopping block.
Exploring ways to lower high drug costs is welcome. But instituting a blanket policy to seize intellectual property in industries ranging from agriculture to medicine, and from energy to artificial intelligence is not the right path forward.