The Role of Intellectual Property in Collaborative Research: Crossing the “Valley of Death” by Turning Discovery Into Health

Nathan Pauly


Technology transfer is the process of transforming basic scientific discoveries into commercial products that can be sold to the public. Historically, the federal government has been the country’s largest funder of basic biomedical research through institutions such as the National Institute of Health (NIH). Private corporations utilize scientific knowledge generated at NIH to design drugs and medical devices that are then marketed to the American public. As a taxpayer funded institution, NIH has a fundamental responsibility to optimize the technology transfer process so that the American public receives the greatest return on its investment in the form of new healthcare products. Various laws passed in the 1980s have set up the technology transfer system to revolve around the dispensation of intellectual property rights. In recent years several prominent critiques of the technology transfer system’s use of intellectual property rights have emerged in academic literature. In order to assess the validity of these critiques I conducted ten oral history interviews with administrators at NIH that are deeply involved in the technology transfer process. This paper will demonstrate that many of the criticisms that are posed in academic literature do not impact research at NIH. However, interviews with officials at NIH indicate that there is still friction in the system that prevents the American public from receiving the maximum return on its investment.


Technology Transfer; Intellectual Property Rights; NIH

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