INDIANAPOLIS - Former U.S. Senator Birch Bayh is being remembered for many accomplishments following his passing earlier this month, including his contribution to innovation throughout the country. The three-term senator is perhaps best known for authoring the federal Title IX law and drafting the 25th and 26th amendments to the U.S. Constitution. However, another law co-authored by Bayh is considered to be instrumental to technology transfer activities in the U.S. 

The Bayh-Dole Act, which was enacted in 1980, allowed universities to systematically retain title to inventions that were made with federal funds. Teri Willey, executive director and fund manager for the IU Philanthropic Venture Fund, says the legislation made it easier for inventions to be commercialized.

"Prior to the Bayh-Dole Act, that was possible, but you basically had to petition for title of the invention made by one of your faculty members on a case-by-case basis and this act allowed universities to, as long as they met certain criteria, retain or acquire that title so that they could deal directly with industry and entrepreneurs to commercialize the ideas and bring them forward to the public. Before that, you had to go through the central government in order to get a license if you thought the idea could be the basis of a new product or company."

Because the process was so labor intensive, Willey says few universities were doing it. Stephen Susalka, chief executive officer of Illinois-based nonprofit AUTM (formerly known as the Association of University Technology Managers), wrote an article following Bayh's passing and said the Bayh-Dole Act "also set the stage for the explosion in growth of start-up company formation."

Willey says the universities that were participating in the old process got together with policymakers to try and change the way intellectual property is awarded.

"After this decentralization allowing the rights to be exercised closer to where the inventors were, the number of patents filed, the number of licenses granted just increased steadily and significantly and there was tremendous economic impact," said Willey. "In fact, the Bayh-Dole Act is credited as being a foundation of the biotech industry in the 1990s."

Willey adds the bipartisan nature of the Bayh-Dole Act is also a key component of its passing.