May 2011

Fixing a hole

2011 budget update

The fiscal 2011 budget was finally passed by Congress in April, with approximately $38 billion in cuts made from the previous year. $260 million was cut from the NIH budget, $50 million from the facilities and maintenance budget, with the remaining cuts likely to be spread across the 27 institutes.  Sources indicate it is likely that extramural research will not be affected by these cuts. $53 million was cut from the NSF budget, $43 million from research-related programs and $10 million from educational programs.

Even acknowledging these advantages, the American system has its flaws, some of which finally are being addressed. The National Academies released a study last year that recommended updating the Bayh-Dole Act to promote sharing of technologies while de-emphasizing any potential financial gains from university-based intellectual property. Meanwhile, Congress is working to change the American patent system from a first-to-invent system to the first-to-file setup that is used by the rest of the world. The move theoretically will decrease costs and improve efficiency in the patent process by removing the need to prove priority of invention and streamline transnational patent filings. Across the Atlantic Ocean, the EU also is trying to remove barriers between countries, recently voting to create a unified patent that would cover all of its 27 constituent members, thereby removing the need for inventors to file patent applications with each individual country. As legislators and bureaucrats continue to refine and improve the patent system, scientists can turn their focus back to what they do best: science. 

Geoff HuntGeoffrey Hunt (ghunt@asbmb.org) is the ASBMB science policy fellow.

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