Academic patents and materials transfer agreements: substitutes or complements?
U.S. universities and academic medical centers long have been important performers of research in the life sciences, but their role as a source of patented intellectual property in this field has changed significantly in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. The expanded presence of formal intellectual property rights within the academic biomedical research enterprise has occasioned numerous expressions of concern from scholars, policymakers, and participants. One widely expressed fear involves the effects of patenting on the conduct of the scientific research enterprise. There is also considerable concern over the possible role of Materials Transfer Agreements (MTAs) in raising research “transaction costs”. On the other hand, others suggest that the contractual structure provided by MTAs may reduce transaction costs and facilitate exchange. This paper undertakes a preliminary analysis of the role of MTAs in the biomedical research enterprise at the University of Michigan, a significant patenter and licensor of biomedical intellectual property. We examine the relationship among invention disclosures, patenting, licensing, and the presence or absence of an MTA. Although data limitations make any conclusions tentative, our analysis suggests that the increased assertion of property rights by universities through MTAs does not appear to impede the commercialization of university research through patenting and licensing. Copyright Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2007
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