WASHINGTON – Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa and Sen. John Thune of South Dakota are pressing the Energy Department to do a better job of tracking and protecting the intellectual property of inventions developed through Energy Department funding.  The senators wrote to the agency after a report from the independent Government Accountability Office (GAO) completed at their request tracked the lack of procedures for federally funded inventions.

“Securing a Federal interest is critical for ensuring that companies follow Federal domestic production and transfer regulations,” Grassley and Thune wrote to Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz.  “The Federal government also has non-exclusive royalty rights to any invention created with Federal funding.  Enforcing these rights helps create American jobs, keep intellectual property from falling into the wrong hands, and reduces government spending.”

The Department of Energy provided at least a total of $11 billion ($12 billion in fiscal year 2014 dollars) in research and development funding to contractors for fiscal years 2009 through 2013, according to the GAO.   Contractors reported about 5,800 inventions and 700 patents developed with Energy Department funding during this time period.  The GAO concluded that the department’s systems for collecting and managing its intellectual property portfolio are “outdated” and unable to “electronically updat(e) invention disclosure or patent status.”  As a result, the GAO found numerous instances of inventions which were not properly registered with the federal government.

The senators asked the Energy Department for ongoing updates on plans and procedures to fix the lacking safeguards.

Grassley and Thune sought the GAO report after looking into federal grantees, such as the battery maker A123, that received federal tax dollars and were subsequently taken over by a foreign-owned company.  The senators began to track what happens to the intellectual property developed with U.S. tax dollars.

The GAO report is available here.  The senators’ letter is available here.