Technology and intellectual property issues are of critical importance to APLU institutions.
Given the ever-changing environment of technology, it is critical that public policy is similarly up-to-date and does not adversely affect the use of technology on our university campuses. For that reason, APLU is involved in advocating for Net Neutrality, preserving an open Internet and ensuring equitable access.
It is also important that public policy encourages the innovation that occurs on campus. Innovation drives our economy and improves the health and quality of life for so many by incentivizing discoveries and moving good ideas to full development and commercialization. This technology transfer process is a vital role of research universities.
Furthermore, APLU is an advocate for defending the strength of the patent system, which facilitates the transfer of campus research discoveries to private sector entities that can build on the discovery and eventually turn it into the next greatest innovation.
Learn more about the important role university technology transfer plays in fueling the innovation economy here.
APLU created a Task Force on Tenure, Promotion, and Technology Transfer to survey universities on what role tech transfer plays in tenure and promotion decisions. The task force issues a report that provides both an overview of the landscape as well as recommendations for how universities can modify their policies and practices.
APLU established the Task Force on Managing University Intellectual Property to examine the purposes of university innovation, technology transfer, commercialization and entrepreneurship. In 2015, the task force released a statement of recommendations on reaffirming and communicating the purposes of university management of intellectual property.
Task Force Recommendations
Following is a summary of the recommendations, details of which are included in the March 2015 report, and which were further explored in a 2016 survey of tech transfer offices in partnership with the Association of American Universities (AAU).
Institutions of higher education and libraries are leaders in creating, fostering, using, extending, and maximizing the potential of the Internet for research, education, and the public good. The groups believe network neutrality protections are essential to protecting freedom of speech, educational achievement, and economic growth.
At its best, the Internet is a platform for learning, collaboration, and interaction among students, faculty, library patrons, local communities, and the world. Libraries and institutions of higher education make an enormous amount of Internet content available to the general public—from basic distance learning classes to multimedia instruction, cloud computing, digitized historical databases, research around “big data,” and many other educational and civic resources—all of which require an open Internet. Institutions of higher education and libraries do not object to paying for the high-capacity Internet connections that they need to support their students, faculty, administrators, and library patrons; but once connected, they should not have to pay additional fees to receive prioritized transmission of their content, services, or applications. These groups support strong, enforceable rules to ensure that higher education and libraries can continue to deliver online educational and public interest content at a level of speed and quality on par with commercial providers.
In 2015, the FCC adopted and implemented “Open Internet Rules” that apply to fixed and mobile broadband service. The Open Internet Rules bans blocking, degradation, and paid prioritization, amongst other provisions. More information can be found here.
In early 2017, APLU along with other higher education and library organizations, representing thousands of colleges, universities, and libraries nationwide, released a joint set of Net Neutrality Principles. The principles call upon the FCC to maintain the approach adopted in the Open Internet Order to preserve the openness of the Internet.
The FCC released the Restoring Internet Freedom Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in May 2017, which would roll back the 2015 Open Internet Order. APLU joined a number of higher education and library associations in sending comments and reply comments on the proposed rule. These comments express concern with the FCC’s efforts to reverse the current net neutrality rules that now protect the openness of the internet. The comments also reiterate the need for strong, enforceable net neutrality policies and rules to protect and promote an open Internet, which is inextricably intertwined with the public interest missions of libraries and institutions of higher education.
On December 14, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted to approve the draft Declaratory Ruling, Report and Order, Restoring Internet Freedom, reversing the 2015 Open Internet Order. The Restoring Internet Freedom order reverses classification of mobile and fixed broadband internet access services as common carrier services, implements a “transparency only” net neutrality regime at the FCC, and eliminates the existing bright line prohibitions on blocking, throttling, and paid prioritization, the general conduct standard to evaluate potential threats to an open Internet.
In response to the Restoring Internet Freedom Order and scheduled vote, APLU, the five other presidential higher education associations and EDUCAUSE sent a letter to the FCC expressing serious concerns with the draft order and urging the FCC to maintain clear and enforceable net neutrality rules.
University technology transfer is the process by which fundamental discoveries are moved from the laboratory into the commercial sector for development into beneficial products and processes. Technology transfer’s economic and social contributions to our nation were greatly enhanced by the enactment of the Bayh-Dole Act in 1980, which allowed universities to retain the patent and licensing rights to inventions resulting from federally funded research. Bayh-Dole significantly increased and accelerated the transfer of university discoveries to the marketplace.
The products and processes that emerge from university technology transfer benefit the public in myriad ways, including by improving public health and contributing to U.S. economic competitiveness and global technological leadership. In 2017 alone, U.S. universities reported that they received more than 6,825 patents, and university-based research led to the formation of 1,003 new start-up companies and more than 634 new commercial products, including lifesaving drugs and major technological advances.
A primary mission of U.S. universities is to make new discoveries and ensure that they are available to benefit the public. Their paramount reason for securing and licensing patents is to ensure that university discoveries are developed into products and technologies that advance the public good. Patenting makes the early-stage inventions that universities usually produce more useful to companies that take the risk to license, develop, and market such discoveries.
Universities promote high standards and a consistent commitment to good practices by striving to follow the core values outlined in “Nine Points to Consider in Licensing University Technology,” which has been endorsed by more than 100 higher education institutions and associations. Last year, an Association of Public and Land-grant Universities working group issued recommendations that reiterate that the principal goal of university technology transfer is to serve the public interest and public good.
The ability of university technology transfer to achieve its societal benefits depends on a strong patent system. Because the inventions emerging from university research tend to be early-stage, high-risk inventions, successful university technology transfer transactions require a patent system that protects such innovations. Without robust patent protections, licensees and venture capitalists will not take on the significant risk associated with investing in and developing such inventions.
Universities strongly oppose the abusive litigation tactics of patent trolls, who take advantage of the patent litigation system and seek to undermine its core purpose – to stimulate and protect innovation. For this reason, universities support legislation that would address patent troll abuses without weakening the U.S. patent system. Universities also support strengthening the Federal Trade Commission’s authority to crack down on patent trolls who send abusive letters demanding compensation for alleged patent infringement.
APLU is concerned about legislative efforts that could seriously harm technology transfer and the strength of the patent system because they go well beyond what is needed to address the bad actions of a small number of patent holders. For example, H.R. 9, the Innovation Act, which was considered in the last Congress, would heighten the risks and costs of litigation through overbroad fee-shifting and joinder provisions, thus significantly weakening the ability of universities and their licensees to enforce their patents in good faith.
If a patent cannot be enforced, it is of no value. Licensees have scant incentive to work with entities that are unable to protect their intellectual property rights. For universities in particular, a loss of confidence in the willingness and/or ability of universities to protect their intellectual property rights would seriously undermine the universities’ capacity to transfer their research discoveries from the laboratory to the private sector for society’s benefit.
APLU will continue to work with Congress to develop carefully targeted legislation that curtails abusive patent litigation while maintaining the strength of the U.S. patent system so the public can continue to benefit from university technology transfer.
:: Higher Education Association Statement on Introduction of PATENT Act, 4-30-15
:: 145 Universities Express Concern on Patent Legislation, 2-24-15
:: Higher Education Association Statement on Introduction of Innovation Act, 2-5-15
:: Sample Big Ten Patent Letter, 1-25-15
:: Patent Coalition Letter to Judiciary Committees, 1-21-15
:: Patent Coalition and University Sign-on Letter, 4-28-14