SCOTUS to hear case on research funding

The Supreme Court is facing a case that will determine whether universities or faculty have the right to patent their research, a question that will have an increased impact on researchers at GW when the Science and Engineering Complex is completed.

The case Stanford v. Roche stems from a law that gives universities the rights to inventions that received federal funding, as opposed to the researcher. Currently, universities have ownership rights to federally funded research, according to the 30-year-old Bayh-Dole Act.

GW spent nearly $125 million on research using federal funds in 2010, accounting for 76 percent of its research expenditures, according to Special Assistant to the Vice President for Research Gina Lohr. The upcoming SEC project would offer increased facilities dedicated to research.

Jim Chung, director of GW’s Office of Entrepreneurship, said more research on campus would lead to patent rights becoming increasingly important.

“GW has followed the existing prevailing interpretation of the Bayh-Dole Act to provide universities with the retention of patent rights developed through federally funded research. We will continue to follow this interpretation unless the Supreme Court provides guidance that this interpretation is not correct,” Chung said.

Chemistry, biochemistry and molecular biology professor Akros Vertes said faculty members sign a contract that states that patents are released to the University for whatever they discover in their line of work.

“I do find it reasonable that the University receives those rights,” Vertes said. “The grants are given to the University, not me. Then it’s not a matter of opinion, it’s a matter of contract.”

Educational groups have expressed support for a decision that would continue to give patent rights to universities.

The Association of American Universities filed a brief to the court in support of universities receiving patent rights, saying that the reverse decision would leave the field open for more fights over ownership rights.

Professor Chris Cahill, a chemistry professor, said the answer to who has ownership of patents rights varies.

“I think it should be looked at on a case-by-case basis and see who’s supported the research,” Cahill said.

The court is expected to make its decision by July.

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