B. D. Colen
Office of Technology Development
Harvard Joins Effort To Protect Public Interest In Technology Licensing Process
Cambridge, MA, March 6 – Harvard University has joined with a number of the nation's other leading universities and the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) to develop a set of shared guidelines intended to protect the public interest when universities grant licenses for the rights to their latest scientific advances to private parties.
The white paper-titled "In the Public Interest: Nine Points to Consider in Licensing University Technology"-aims to encourage technology transfer agreements to facilitate broad development and dissemination of university-generated technologies. A key point is that researchers at universities across the country should be able to continue to work with intellectual property that has been licensed to commercial concerns.
"The principles spelled out here help enforce the primacy of intellectual exploration and the free dissemination of scientific ideas and discoveries within the academic world," said Steven E. Hyman, Harvard University Provost. "If these nine points are widely adopted the academic scientific community, commercial world, and, most important, the public will benefit."
While the document's authors acknowledge there are circumstances in which universities may need to grant exclusive rights to their discoveries and inventions, they suggest structuring such agreements in ways that will permit the scientific community to conduct studies involving the licensed technologies and to develop new applications for them.
The report grew out of an unusual meeting last July of representatives of leading research universities. Arthur Bienenstock, former dean of research and Stanford and the meeting's conveenor, said that "we hope that every university when considering the licensing of intellectual property will consider these nine points. We think it is in the public interest for universities and other nonprofit institutions to continue to do research that leads to advances in fields associated with university-held intellectual property."
Other signatories to the white paper are California Institute of Technology, Cornell, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of California system, the Chicago and Urbana-Champaign campuses of the University of Illinois, University of Washington, Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation and Yale.
"Balancing the competing interests of our institutions, whose two primary focuses are increasing knowledge and contributing to the public good, and those of industry are always a challenge," said Isaac Kohlberg, Harvard's Senior Associate Provost and Chief Technology Development Officer. "Clearly the nine points laid out in this white paper – and the fact that these major institutions have agreed to them – will make that balancing act somewhat easier."
The paper says that millions of people around the world are dying of preventable or curable diseases, and that technology transfer should help to relieve such suffering. "We have a responsibility to try to alleviate it, including finding a way to share the fruits of what we learn globally, at sustainable and affordable prices, for the benefit of the world's poor," the paper states, adding later, "Universities should strive to construct licensing agreements in ways that ensure that these underprivileged populations have low- or no-cost access to adequate quantities of these medical innovations."
The white paper also includes points on avoiding excessive litigation, minding export controls and managing conflicts of interest. A summary of the nine points is as follows:
- Universities should reserve the right to practice licensed inventions, and to allow other nonprofit and governmental organizations to do so.
- Exclusive licenses should be structured in a manner that encourages technology development and use.
- Strive to minimize the licensing of "future improvements."
- Universities should anticipate and help to manage technology transfer related conflicts of interest.
- Ensure broad access to research tools.
- Enforcement action should be carefully considered.
- Be mindful of export regulations.
- Be mindful of the implications of working with patent aggregators.
- Consider including provisions that address unmet needs, such as those of neglected patient populations or geographic areas, giving particular attention to improved therapeutics, diagnostics and agricultural technologies for the developing world.
About Harvard University's Office of Technology Development
The Harvard Office of Technology Development (OTD) is responsible for all activities pertaining to the evaluation, patenting and licensing of new inventions and discoveries made at Harvard University and Harvard Medical School. OTD also serves to further the development of Harvard technologies through the establishment of sponsored research collaborations with industry. OTD's mission is to promote the public good by fostering innovation and translating new inventions made at Harvard into useful products available and beneficial to society.