Last year, EFF, along with our partner organizations, launched Reclaim Invention, a campaign to encourage universities across the country to commit to adopting patent policies that advance the public good. Reclaim Invention asks universities to focus on by bringing their inventions to the public, rather than selling or licensing them to patent assertion entities whose sole business model is threatening other innovators with patent lawsuits.
Now, thanks to Maryland State Delegate Jeff Waldstreicher, the project is taking a step forward. In February, Delegate Waldstreicher introduced H.B. 1357, a bill modeled on Reclaim Invention’s draft legislation, the Reclaim Invention Act.
Like the Reclaim Invention Act, H.B. 1357 would require Maryland state universities to adopt policies for technology transfer that commit them to managing their patent portfolio in the public interest, and outlines what that policy should include. The bill would also void any agreement by the university to license or transfer a patent to a patent assertion entity (or patent troll).
At a hearing earlier this month, the Maryland Assembly’s House Appropriations Committee heard testimony in support of the bill from Delegate Waldstrecher, Knowledge Ecology International (KEI)’s James Love, and data scientist Adam Kreisberg. As KEI’s James Love explained, the bill would allow universities to continue to license or assign patent rights to companies, but would prohibit them from assigning patents “to organizations who are just suing people for infringement.” According to Love, when it comes to public universities, "you don’t want public sector patents to be used in a way that's a weapon against the public.”
EFF, with Public Knowledge, Creative Commons, and KEI [.pdf], and Yarden Katz, Fellow in Systems Biology at Harvard Medical School [.pdf] also submitted written testimony supporting the bill. Katz, who studies "the impact of commercialization on scientific research,” explains:
[r]esearch has shown that university patents, including those produced by public universities, can end up in the hands of NPRs. For instance, as of 2016, the notorious NPA ‘Intellectual Ventures’ had nearly 500 patents that originated from American universities in its portfolio…including some from the University of Maryland.
If the Maryland legislature passes the bill, Katz states it would “set an example for other states by adopting a framework for academic research that puts public interests front and center.”
If you’re in Maryland you can urge your lawmakers to defend innovation and pass H.B. 1357.
If you’re not in Maryland, you can take action to encourage your university to sign the Public Interest Patent Pledge and urge your state lawmakers to keep university patents out of the hands of trolls.