Do not change 30-year-old Bayh-Dole jobs-engine law

Since 1980 in particular, with the implementation of the Bayh-Dole Act, innovation has had a direct boost from the U.S. government by providing universities, small businesses and nonprofits with direct control of intellectual property resulting from federal funding. Essentially, the legislation has given the grant recipients — a university or other institution — title to the products of their researchers’ labors and freedom to develop their ideas commercially.

But I am concerned that lately Bayh-Dole has been increasingly under attack by various special interests. Most recently, Lesa Mitchell, vice president for innovation at the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, claimed that there is a “massive bottleneck” of innovation on campuses, presumably due to restrictions imposed on U.S. research universities on the way faculty can commercialize their federally funded discoveries. As a result, she claimed, this is preventing some great ideas from reaching the marketplace, thus slowing the creation of jobs.

I beg to differ, and I ask, is speeding up innovation blindly and without strategic control or placement a good thing for the country and its constituents?

Another point often made by critics is that the legislation is aimed totally at commercialization with no thought to public access to the results of federally funded research. That is simply not the case. Most universities do manage their inventions for the public good, particularly for regional economic development by land-grant universities and colleges. The question then becomes, whose view of public good is more relevant to a particular university and the community it serves? Will a U.S. university’s innovation that creates jobs in another state or country do more public good than a local startup?

When a university leverages a patent to make sure an invention first benefits a local company, it is creating both jobs and wealth for the local community. Doesn’t that make more sense than unthinkingly exploiting federally funded research for innovation at all costs? Who would benefit? Large companies that perhaps would exploit our research for jobs overseas?

To my mind, the genius of Bayh-Dole has been to allow local control of an invention to best benefit the local community a university serves, creating a vibrant, knowledge-based economy from the bottom up.

Yes, some university technology transfer offices may benefit from learning how to facilitate innovation more efficiently. But, what the Kauffmann Foundation proposes — allowing faculty members to choose their own agents to bring their ideas to market — will not serve the public-good mission of most universities. Perhaps this would speed up innovation, but who will benefit, and at whose expense?

Nothing should detract from the basic idea of Bayh-Dole: It encourages innovation, which in turn creates jobs while advancing the university’s mission of serving the community. And let’s not forget that it’s those jobs that historically lead us out of recessions — community by community.

Ithaca, N.Y.

Gas touts own merits, doesn’t disparage coal

From David N. Parker, president and CEO, American Gas Association

Your article, “Natural gas lobby steps up to challenge coal” (March 2), wrongly insinuated that a “fight” is brewing between natural gas and coal trade associations in Washington over impending climate legislation.

Rather, the natural gas industry has good news to share about the environmental benefits of natural gas and is rightly using any venue possible to spread this positive message.

Americans have indicated that they care deeply about reducing carbon in our atmosphere. That’s why the American Gas Association (AGA), a trade association that represents 195 local energy companies that deliver natural gas throughout the United States, is working to educate lawmakers and consumers about the clean, efficient properties of natural gas.

AGA believes Americans have a right to know that natural gas emits 45 percent less carbon dioxide than coal and 30 percent less than heating oil.

Based on these numbers alone, it’s clear that natural gas can and should play a major role in reducing carbon emissions in the United States.

While these carbon reductions can best be achieved through direct use of natural gas in the home (such as for heating and cooking), major carbon reductions can also be achieved from natural gas-fired power plants, as was mentioned in your article.

AGA is a proponent of fuel diversity in the United States. Our country must rely on a mix of fuels if we are to achieve energy security and freedom from dependence on foreign oil.

As a clean-burning, domestically abundant, low-carbon fuel, natural gas is “here and now” and is ready to help our country reach its energy goals.

In fact, Secretary of Energy Steven Chu visited AGA offices last month and clearly stated that natural gas is a necessary component of any truly renewable energy program.

Without engaging in “fights” or petty exchanges, AGA will continue to inform Americans about our industry’s good story and about the possibilities of natural gas in a new energy future.