One thing I learned over the years is that if a work is created by the government, it is in the public domain. This means if a book is written, a work of art painted, or even a photograph snapped by the government, it belongs to everyone and they can use it to their liking with or without the creator’s permission. This includes use for profitable and commercial purposes. Today I learned that there is more than meets the eye. Enter the Bayh Dole Act.
I noticed on the White House website that the government was somehow charging for use of patents created through government funding. Since I thought the government’s work was all public domain, this confused me a little. I decided to ask someone in the know. I found a ranking U.S. Department of Energy official’s email address and asked her. Her response was:
“Lab IP is owned by Lab M&O contractor, unless they pass on it back to ther federal govt.
See Bayh Dole”
After reading the Wikipedia article in detail, I thanked her for the information and went on about my day. Then it hit me… what if, for example, I funded billions of dollars of research and came up with a widget and patented it. Then the government decided to fund research for a similar widget and let the researcher keep the patent? My widgets would, understandably, be ridiculously overpriced to absorb the R&D costs whereas my competition could charge a percentage and still make huge profits. Something just isn’t right about that. How do we fix it? I can certainly think of a few ideas. Perhaps it is time for some grant funding reform.