New bill would change the nature of university technology transfer in the U.S.

From the be-careful-what-you-wish-for department, on page 20 of the now-being-considered bill, Start-up Act 2.0, is a line that seems to run cross-grain against the current, 30+-year-old system of university technology transfer in the U.S.:

The Secretary shall award grants to support institutions of higher education pursuing initiatives that allow faculty to directly commercialize research in an effort to accelerate research breakthroughs.

Scott Shane, in Entrepreneur, calls the clause out:  ... this so-called “free agent” provision “is a bad idea that will hinder commercialization of inventions developed at U.S. universities.”

Shane’s argument mirrors that of AUTM (Association of University Technology Managers):

The free agent provision would undermine this system because it would change the incentives for trying to commercialize academic inventions. Free agents [university inventors who by-pass the university technology transfer offices and attempt to commercialize an invention themselves or with an outside partner] would be doing it to make money, while university licensing officers primarily want to get new technology into practice and only secondarily, to bring cash into the university. This difference could result in fewer new products. Because their goal is to make money, free agents would focus on commercializing the most lucrative inventions, such as a heart drug, and skip the ones on which little money could be made, such as a malaria vaccine, even if their commercialization would benefit society.