Since the signing of the Bayh-Dole Act in 1980, the licensing of technology from academic institutions has become increasingly complex. Material transfer agreements (MTAs), intended to protect the owners of discoveries while promoting the sharing of scientific material, have become more human-resource intense and time-consuming. Technology transfer offices (TTOs), now present at most academic institutions, are tasked with the goal of becoming a profit center while simultaneously needing to facilitate the sharing of materials and data with other institutions, as dictated by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) guidelines for federally funded research. As a result, many TTOs operate without profit.
Decreasing the complexity of the MTA process is paramount to not only create a more efficient TTO, but also to make the sharing of research tools easier so that the myriad of materials stored in laboratory freezers may be utilized by other investigators whose research would benefit from their use. For-profit and nonprofit companies and organizations have therefore created a variety of solutions to improve the MTA process. This article will discuss several of these programs, including electronic MTAs, standardized MTAs and repository strategies, and highlight how they have facilitated the sharing of research tools.