I have noted that one of the most important legislation in the United States history in the last 50 years was the Bayh-Dole legislation which makes it possible for recipients of federal grants to commercialize their research outputs. In other words, if one gets government funding, government would allow you to commercialize the outcome of that research with no restriction. So, instead of keeping the invention or outcome in the shelf for government which technically knows nothing it can do it with it, you are free to monetize it for personal gain. This legislation happened around 1980 and was pivotal to the overall growth of technology transfers from universities to markets. Google would not have been possible without this legislation as Google core research was originally funded by a federal grant.
In 1980, a United States legislation dealing with intellectual property emanating from federal government-funded research was implemented. The legislature called Bayh-Dole Act gave US universities, small businesses and non-profits intellectual property rights and control of their inventions, even though they were funded by government. Through this Act, these entities could pursue ownership of inventions in preference to the government. Though there are mixed records on the Act, at least, it provides clarity on many issues that could derail the process of taking ideas to market. Small businesses can nurture ideas and later get acquired by the big ones. Such ideas might have been overlooked by the MNCs.
“Computer Program” in U.S. Copyright Regulation
Another key legislation is the addition of “computer program” in the U.S. Copyright regulation. Before 1980, software or simply computer programs were not copyrightable. In other words, companies and individuals could not copyright computer software. But when that legislation was effected, many great things happened.
A “computer program” is a set of statements or instructions to be used directly or indirectly in a computer in order to bring about a certain result.
Without this legislation we may not necessarily have software companies in the way we have today. But with the law, the marginal cost advantage was put into effect where companies like Dropbox and SAP could build software and then distribute it to as many people as they can through subscription or licensing. This is possible as illegal copying is punishable by copyright laws. Yes, you cannot use your friend’s copy without running into problems if it was licensed only to your friend.
Simply, the Bayh-Dole provided the apparatus to unlock more great inventions from research institutions to the markets while the update of the U.S. Copyright law with “computer program” gave companies protection to pursue software innovation knowing that they have protection for their efforts.
Modern software licensing or subscription offers a huge advantage – you keep getting better product as companies keep improving the product. Yes, practically, online software have one version and unlike physical hardware do get better with time as they are updated by the makers. So, once you pay, you expect to have a better product going forward, flipping the physical construct of depreciation.
Across nations, these two legislation have shaped technology policies. And I consider the Bayh-Dole Act and the “Computer Program” inclusion in the U.S. Copyright regulation as the most catalytic policy tools in the advancement of modern tech, in the last 50 years, across the world.
NB: my earlier writing on Bayh-Dole and its impact was recognized by AUTM, an umbrella of technology managers in more than “800 universities, research centers, hospitals, businesses and government organizations around the globe.” Click for the quote in a piece I contributed as a Letter feedback to the Economist magazine but later published in Nkpuhe (“revelation” in Igbo language, Nigeria), the precursor to Tekedia.
Comment: How Bob Dole made Bill Gates a billionaire.
My response: Not really- I would have said the Google Boys, not Gates since Microsoft was largely funded by IBM, not federal grant as was the case in Stanford for Google. However, Microsoft and Bill Gates would not have succeeded at scale without including “computer program” in the U.S. Copyright law. While in NYSC, I wrote an MS Access program for inventory management. I sold 20 CDs I burnt at Panshin street in Jos (their computer village then). Good money. Then, the next 2 days to supply more, I saw that the sellers had created 200 copies of the same CDs.
I called the police and the man reminded me that they were also doing same on MS Office, Windows. Right there, I knew NG was a jungle despite all the things they taught us on “Engineer Turns Manager” – Copyrights in FUTO. My point is this: if U.S. had not protected Microsoft code, the software giant might have struggled.