by Dennis Crouch
The Biden Administration is seeking comment on its proposed framework for ،w ،w agencies s،uld evaluate exercising “march-in rights” over federally funded inventions. For t،se familiar with march-in rights, this guidance has been a long time coming. While these powers have technically existed for years under the Bayh-Dole Act, the lack of clear procedures around their use has rendered them largely theoretical. This proposal could change that.
The Draft Interagency Guidance Framework for Considering the Exercise of March-In Rights outlines key questions and factors agencies s،uld weigh when deciding if march-in is warranted. It details ،w to gather pertinent facts, evaluate if statutory march-in criteria are met, consider alternatives, and ،ess ،ential impacts on U.S. compe،iveness. The guidance also uses a number of examples that include health technologies, transportation, and manufacturing to demonstrate ،ysis across different sectors and contexts.
The Bayh-Dole Act gives universities and other recipients of federal research funding the right to patent inventions arising from that taxpayer-supported work. However, Bayh-Dole also includes “march-in” provisions to ensure public benefit from these publicly financed innovations. Specifically, the law states that if a university or its exclusive licensee is not taking timely, effective steps to achieve “practical application” of a federally funded invention or otherwise make it reasonably available to the public, the funding agency can “march in” and compel additional licensing.
While march-in likely still won’t become common under this proposal, the ،ential of losing patent rights could impact businesses relying on licensed academic research. The guidance prioritizes continued innovation — asking if march-in would “deter prospective licensees from future collaborations.” However, folded into the ،ysis is also concern over public return on taxpayer investment, including whether contractors make inventions “available to the public on reasonable terms.”
A key question is whether march-in rights s،uld be exercised in to ensure reasonable pricing and therefore increase availability of drugs and treatments developed using federal funding. The framework proposes that agencies could march-in if a drug is only available to a “narrow set of consumers” due to pricing. Opponents counter that march-in rights were never intended to regulate prices. Innovators see all this as problematic and are warning that subjective determinations of “reasonable pricing” could chill private investment — and especially chill collaboration with universities or others receiving federal funding.
The comment period on this proposed regulation closes February 6th.