The Bayh-Dole Act at 40: Accomplishments, Challenges, and Possible Reforms

J Health Polit Policy Law. 2022 Dec 1;47(6):879-895. doi: 10.1215/03616878-10041247.


More than 40 years have passed since the enactment of the Patent and Trademark Amendment (Bayh-Dole) Act, which authorized institutions to patent inventions arising from federally funded research. Although some experts have heralded the Bayh-Dole Act as ushering in a new era of technological advances, others have been less sanguine about its impact. In recent years, the high price of prescription drugs and the patenting of COVID-19 therapeutics and vaccines developed with substantial federal government support have rekindled the debate over whether companies should receive more restricted rights to products originating with government funding. This article traces the history leading to the enactment of the Bayh-Dole Act and critically assesses its strengths and weaknesses as well as unresolved questions concerning its scope. Based on this analysis, the authors propose reforms to better align the Bayh-Dole Act with public values and health outcomes, including clarifying government-use rights, making it easier to invoke march-in rights for failure to meet health and safety needs, increasing transparency in how patents are licensed, and testing different approaches to foster the development and application of inventions.

Keywords: biotechnology; drug development; innovation; patents; technology transfer.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • COVID-19*
  • Federal Government
  • Humans
  • United States
  • Universities