Federally funded research has long been a vital piece of the American research and development pie, and an important generator of new industries, businesses, and jobs, particularly from the Space Age through the Information Age. But did you know it wasn’t until Senators Birch Bayh, D-Ind., and Bob Dole, R-Kan., came together in 1980 that the United States began reaping a return on its investment? In that year, the Senators won approval for a new law assuring that federally funded researchers and laboratories would retain the rights to their discoveries when those innovations hit the open market. Had the two Senators not worked together in bipartisan fashion, there’s a very good chance the world would look different.
I had the opportunity to attend a recent discussion focusing on technology transfers, universities, and our national laboratories. What struck me the most wasn’t the bipartisan history, but rather the enormous role that technology transfers and the Bayh-Dole Act are still playing today. Because of the Senators’ foresight, researchers are finding ways to increase crop yields, to fight diseases like HIV/AIDS and malaria with new and improved drugs, and to develop for new ways to better predict severe weather to save lives and protect property. Were it not for Senators Bayh and Dole, there’s no saying whether the world-changing research from America’s national laboratories and universities would have ever transitioned from nascent projects behind closed doors, to the commercial marketplace where they are constantly changing the way we live.
As they refine their campaign policy priorities, both President Obama and Governor Romney should follow the precedent set by the two Senators and commit to working with Congress to find new ways to nurture the American innovative ecosystem. This should start with strong investments in federally funded research and our national labs. Fostering R&D creates jobs, grows the economy, and most importantly, continues America’s role as the world’s innovation leader.