This article examines the US Bayh–Dole (BD) Act — a 1980s measure that sought to stimulate science-based economic growth by encouraging universities to patent inventions resulting from government-funded research — and assesses its suitability for developing countries.

The authors look at how and why advocates of BD-type initiatives sometimes overstate its impact in the United States and discuss the problems the act has caused for American biotechnology and information technology.

They outline the policy options for developing countries seeking to improve the contributions universities make to economic development and provide a list of safeguards that should be put in place before adopting laws styled after the act. These include no exclusive licensing, transparent patenting and government authority to issue additional licenses.

The authors conclude that policies to develop public sector research and development are context-specific and it is unclear whether any of the positive impacts of BD in the United States would arise in developing countries following similar legislation.