Intellectual Property:

Industry and Agency Concerns Over Intellectual Property Rights

GAO-02-723T: Published: May 10, 2002. Publicly Released: May 10, 2002.

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Improperly defined intellectual property rights in a government contract can result in the loss of an entity's critical assets or limit the development of applications critical to public health or safety. Conversely, successful contracts can spur economic development, innovation, and growth, and dramatically improve the quality of delivered goods and services. Contracting for intellectual property rights is difficult. The stakes are high, and negotiating positions are frequently ill-defined. Moreover, the concerns raised must be tempered with the understanding that government contracting can be challenging even without the complexities of intellectual property rights. Further, contractors often have reasons for not wanting to contract with the government, including concerns over profitability, capacity, accounting and administrative requirements, and opportunity costs. Within the commercial sector, companies identified a number of specific intellectual property concerns that affected their willingness to contract with the government. These included perceived poor definitions of what technical data is needed by the government, issues with the government's ability to protect proprietary data adequately, and unwillingness on the part of government officials to exercise the flexibilities available concerning intellectual property rights. Some of these concerns were on perception rather than experience, but, according to company officials, they nevertheless influence decisions not to seek contracts or collaborate with federal government entities. Agency officials shared many of these concerns. Poor upfront planning and limited experience/expertise among the federal contracting workforce were cited as impediments. Although agency officials indicated that intellectual property rights problems may have limited access to particular companies, they did not cite specific instances where the agency was unable to acquire needed technology. Agency officials said that improved training and awareness of the flexibility already in place as well as a better definition of data needs on individual contracts would improve the situation.

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