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Developing nations should be wary of Bayh–Dole-style legislation and instead base their patent-reform laws on clear assessments of their own problems and on other policy tools — legislation will not necessarily lead to technology transfer, commercialisation and innovation, says Bhaven N. Sampat.

The Bayh–Dole Act, which came into force 30 years ago this month, increased US university patents from less than 300 to 3,000 a year and helped universities boost their revenue to roughly US$2 billion annually. But the act has replaced one set of frictions with another — it eliminated patenting and technology-transfer licensing restrictions yet promoted excessive patenting and overly restrictive licensing, says Sampat.

Academic publishing, collaborations and teaching should not be undermined in favour of patents and licences, he argues. Computer software and biotechnology techniques are better transferred from universities to the commercial marketplace using traditional methods.

Policies promoting broad and aggressive patenting, such as those drawn up in India and implemented in the Philippines, may pose more problems in developing countries, says Sampat. For example, under-resourced patent offices may be unable to separate out applications that aren't innovative. Legislators will need to be able to distinguish between research that should be patented and research that should be widely distributed.

Sampat suggests that funders support the management of intellectual property rights and technology-transfer offices, that countries make sure domestic firms and consumers benefit from taxpayer-funded research, and that companies that generate drug candidates for global diseases use university licensing to promote local access and preserve incentives for development of new drugs.

Link to full article in Nature