January 6, 2021

Patent Decisions for Government-Funded Research in Universities

It’s no secret that the federal government is slicing budgets for everything it can, including academic research and patenting. The U.S. government has had a significant role in scientific research, technology, and innovation since World War II, and now that it is cutting its budget to fund research in universities, the question of who will own patents on new biomedicine products and ideas and technology as it arises has come into play. When government-funded research in universities have patents that run out, who pays the maintenance fees? To understand the answers to all these questions, it’s necessary to dive into the government and its role in university research.

Budget cuts have impacted every sector of the United States over the past few years, with no end in sight. As the government attempts to mitigate the losses from the post-COVID-19 pandemic, they continue to slash funding everywhere they can, including academic institutions and research. But the research must continue in order for progress to be made, so it’s the proverbial catch-22 situation.

By shifting the weight of funding research to private sectors, the government gives up its priority status on patenting the new innovations. When patents run out for government-backed funding from the past, budget cuts also play in the role of whether the patent gets renewed and maintained. Budget cuts and the impact on institutions with government-funded research have far-ranging repercussions that are only recently being investigated.

How the U.S. Government and Research Mix

The federal government didn’t always have a place in the financial backing of education and research. Once the right to a free public education was established, it was the responsibility of the state and county to enforce the policies that guided their schools’ frameworks. But the policies of the federal government provided a standard that was used to run the state and county reforms by, and this overall structure has spread to many other parts of the world.

While it is generally understood that the United States government must aid the school systems financially to help them be successful, the role of federal programs in private and public higher education institutions, particularly in research, has been a rocky one. When higher education institutions were established, they were not done so with the intent to have the government fund them. They were to be independent so that the institution could establish its own policies, as long as they followed the state’s guidelines and mandates. But research is expensive, and since World War II, the government has stepped in more to provide funding for institutions. This benefits all parties, as the researcher is able to complete their work, the institution gets the credit along with an ever-improving reputation as a legitimate academic school, and the government gets the patent.

The Cost of Holding and Maintaining Patents

Obtaining a patent is a long, complex, and expensive process. Beyond the initial costs, there are maintenance and renewal expenses, too. These fees aren’t always included in the original research grants.

In the United States, maintenance fees are required to be paid at the half-year mark after three, seven, and eleven years. They are, respectively, $1600, $3600, and $7400. It’s not always cost-effective to continue to pay these maintenance fees, and the government is always inclined to cover them to continue the patent unless the technology or intellectual property has shown itself to be capable of providing revenue.

With the budget cuts that continue to reduce the potential for government-backed research in innovative areas, one of the areas that has been hit is the maintenance of patents. On average, 15 to 20 percent of patents in the United States are dropped when they are due for maintenance annually, but this number is expected to rise as government-funded maintenance fees are cut.

Federal Funding and Renewal Decisions

Between 1926 and 2017, millions of patents were awarded in the United States. Of those, some were supported through federal funding and had patents either owned by the government directly, supported by federal funds, or had other federal funding help. The number of patents with government support increased proportionally with the number of patents awarded.

The decision to fund and renew a patent has a lot of implications at the federal level beyond slashing budgets. To make policies and continue to reform the future of society for the better, it’s crucial for the government to have a strong scientific knowledge-base. Science, particularly in today’s digital era, runs the economic and trade policies around the world, and cutting funding for government-backed science can cause significant shifts in power, particularly if the research is funded anyway by competitors and private institutions.

While budget cuts may be a necessary way of the future in order to get the country financially back on track, cutting academic funding may be likened to shooting oneself in the nose to spite their face. It’s going to backfire and the consequences could be way more costly than what was saved through the budget cuts.

Tags Government-Funded Research Patents Research Universities
Jason Collins
Jason is a writer for many niche brands with experience “bringing stories to life” for both startups and corporate partners.

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