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1963 Patent Policy Rationalization: "How far should the Government go in granting

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This article by Larry Stern of the Washington Post is from Jan 3, 1963.


A White House scientific task force has quietly circulated among Government agencies a proposal designed to rationalize conflicting Federal patent policies.

The proposal,drafted by the staff of presdential science adviser Jerome B Wiesner, is still secret, and a spokesman for the Wiesner group declined to discuss the report on the ground that it remains only a "staff recommendation"

But the staff paper , which has been under study by executive agencies for more than a year, could affect the disposition to private contractors of many millions of dollars worth of patent rights on inventions developed with taxpayers funds.

The controversy that the Wiesner group hoped to resolve is this: How far should the Government go in granting exclusive patent rights to contractors for inventions stemming from Government financed research and development contracts? The issue has been hotly disputed in Congress, industry and within the executive agencies.

Until now Wiesner's office and the agencies have kept heavy secrecy wraps on reactions tot he new proposal as well as on the report itself.

It was learned yesterday, however, the the Departments of Justice and Health , Education and Welfare privately objected to Wiesner's office that the White House staff proposal does not put enough stress on public rights to patents.

Forme Secretary of Health Education and Welfare Abraham A. Ribicoff, in a letter to the Wiesner group, gave this reaction to its proposals: "If there is any single criticism of the draft statement that I would make it would be that it lacks a forthright statement of what the public interest is or requires on inventions deriving from Government support..."

"At the outset, it should be pointed out that the Statement of Policy Considerations seems to be unduly wighted in the direction of a consideration of the interest of industry in the entire matter. It would seem more appropriate for the emphasis in this sort of statement be cast more heavily upon the rights of the public to inventions derived from activities supported or paid for by public funds"

Assistant Attorney General Nicholas deB.Katzenbach also registered objections to the proposed patent revisions. He noted that some agencies, such as the Atomic Energy Commission, as a matter of law do not sign away exclusive rights to contractors at the time services are contracted for.

He warned the White House group against trying to reverse such policies "by Executive action." Katzenbach added:"... this department is on record with COngress as opposed to any legislative solution of this problem which would grant exclusive rights to contractors when the contract is made. We have not been persuaded that this position is unsound."

The Defense Department, which currently has the Governments's biggest research budget at $5 billion this year, is the most liberal Federal agency in its dealings with contractors. With few exceptions, it turns over to its contractors exclusive rights to inventions developed with Pentagon dollars.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration is now trying to change its patent procedures, which were established by Congress, and bring itself more in line with Defense policy. At present NASA is obliged to keep title to inventions stemming from research it and the taxpayer finance

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