Indiana universities and companies have played a vital role in the commercialization of insulin, the treatment of prostate cancer, and a reduction in cancer cases caused by the human papillomavirus, among many other therapeutics. Importantly, Hoosier state universities—Indiana University, Purdue University and Notre Dame—have made significant contributions to medical innovation over the past few decades.

All of this, including the boost to Indiana’s economy from this wave of innovation, has been supported and enabled by a little-known law with an enormous impact, the University and Small Business Patent Procedures Act of 1980. The Economist characterized the law, more commonly known as the Bayh-Dole Act, an eponymous shorthand referring to the two senators, Birch Bayh and Bob Dole, who co-authored the legislation, as “possibly the most inspired piece of legislation to be enacted in America over the past half-century.”

Up until the two lawmakers reached across the aisle just over four decades ago, ownership rights of government-funded research at a university were not always clear cut and typically depended on which agency or entity funded the research. Oftentimes, this resulted in patent ownership simply reverting back to the U.S. government where, mired in red tape, innovations would languish in labs, or never reach development and the market. The Bayh-Dole Act changed that, granting universities the right to retain ownership of inventions developed with federal funding.

Indiana’s university research operations are vast and significant. They have thousands of research faculty working in all disciplines. In 2019, together Indiana University, Purdue University, and the University of Notre Dame, brought in nearly $1.4 billion to fund their research efforts. This funding represents a significant contribution to Indiana’s economy that has provided an enormous boost to Indiana’s economy and powered the long-term competitiveness of the state’s life sciences sector.

But the ramifications of the law extend well beyond the borders of Indiana. The legislation was a big win for researchers, but perhaps an even bigger win for the country. According to one study, universities across the country were awarded a mere 390 patents the year the legislation became law. In 2009, that figure had grown nearly eight-fold, to 3,088 patents. In an op-ed last year, Senator Dole wrote that his legislation has “bolstered U.S. economic output by $1.7 trillion, supported 5.9 million jobs, and led to more than 13,000 startup companies.” 

At a more local level, the impact of Bayh-Dole on Indiana’s economy is hard to overstate. Today, Purdue University, Indiana University and the University of Notre Dame, all three being R1 schools, a classification reserved for doctoral universities with “very high research activity,” have an office dedicated to tech transfer. 

These offices serve as matchmakers of sorts. They are vigilant in seeking out existing companies where the universities’ innovations could find a commercial home; on the prowl for founders, entrepreneurs, and funding sources to nurture the best their labs produce. In terms of results, the numbers speak for themselves. 

Some highlights include:

  • Since 1997, Indiana University research has led to more than 4,800 global patent applications, generating more than $145 million in licensing and royalty income. 
  • Over the last five years Purdue University researchers have filed nearly 3,000 domestic and international patents, licensed more than 1,100 technologies, launched 112 companies, and generated nearly $36 million in royalty income.
  • Since 2017, the University of Notre Dame has started 64 companies. In 2019, these 64 companies offered 99 full-time jobs paying an average salary of $72,000 (22% more than the average Indiana salary). They also raised an aggregate of $6.6 million in investment and are generating $10.9 million in revenue.

To ensure a bright future for Indiana, we must be fully committed to driving innovation within the life sciences community through a renewed focus on university tech transfer. Many important innovations, companies and jobs are born out of this process. I would urge anyone in the business, technology, or life sciences sectors to become more familiar with our universities’ technology transfer programs. Increasing the network of people and assets ready to operationalize these innovations will continue to keep the Indiana life sciences sector growing, while benefiting Hoosiers and society at large.

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