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Patently misguided

Giving universities the rights to academics’ inventions has backfired, say Catalina Martinez and Valerio Sterzi

Up until 2000, Germany, Austria and the Scandinavian nations allowed academics, rather than the universities that employed them, to hold the exclusive rights to patents on inventions. Now, only Sweden retains this system, called the professor’s privilege.

In the other countries, policymakers gave universities the rights to, and most of the income from, researchers’ inventions. This was intended to inspire a tech-transfer boom; it emulated the US Bayh-Dole act from 1980, which transferred the rights to profit from federally funded research from government to universities. 

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