The underlying technology and research that enabled Google’s search engine, Gatorade’s secret formula, and cell phone technologies can all be traced back to college campuses across America. Since World War II, America’s universities—mostly through government research grants—have been at the forefront of technological innovation. It continues to be in the best interest of the general public that the scientific breakthroughs occurring in America’s collegiate laboratories ultimately become the building blocks for future companies. As a direct result of legislation—specifically the Bayh-Dole Act—this occurs through America’s complex patent system.
The process of transferring scientific discoveries from university laboratories to the commercial sector is known as technology transfer. The Association of University Technology Managers (“AUTM”) defines technology transfer as “the process of transferring scientific findings from one organization to another for the purpose of further development and commercialization.” However, technology transfer is not cheap; Senator Bayh, explaining the reasons for a new patent policy in 1980, stated that the “record showed that for every dollar that was spent on research, it usually took maybe as high as 9 or 10 dollars in investment capital—sometimes a million dollars” to commercialize the results of that research. Moreover, in many technical fields, most notably pharmaceuticals and nanotechnology, the process of commercialization often requires years of dedicated research in order to develop commercial applications. Very often, the first commercial use of the technology is ultimately not the best use.