Technology Transfer:

Copyright Law Constrains Commercialization of Some Federal Software

RCED-90-145: Published: Jun 1, 1990. Publicly Released: Jun 1, 1990.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO provided information on federal agencies' efforts to comply with the prohibition on copyrighting government works, focusing on the: (1) extent to which copyright law has constrained the transfer of federal computer software and other new technologies; and (2) benefits and disadvantages of amending copyright law to allow federal agencies to copyright software.

GAO found that: (1) there was no evidence that federal agencies improperly copyrighted government software; (2) top officials at six of the seven agencies GAO reviewed believed software copyrighting and licensing constraints hurt their efforts to transfer computer software for commercial application to U.S. businesses; (3) agency officials said copyright and licensing authorities would stimulate the transfer of federal software with commercial applications to U.S. businesses by providing investment protection; (4) royalty-sharing would also give federal researchers an incentive to further develop and document the software; and (5) industry officials expressed concern that authority to copyright and license software could limit access to federal scientific and demographic databases.

Status Legend:

More Info
  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Matters for Congressional Consideration

    Matter: To effectively transfer and use federal computer software while accommodating concerns about access to federal databases and shifting federal laboratories' basic research mission, Congress should consider providing copyright and licensing authorities for federal software with wider commercial applications that needs further investment to be effectively transferred. This change could be accomplished by amending the copyright law (17 U.S.C. 105) to allow federal agencies to copyright and grant nonexclusive, partially exclusive, or exclusive licenses to computer software on a case-by-case basis if such protection would stimulate its effective transfer and use.

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: It does not appear likely at this time that Congress will address the matter for congressional consideration.

    Matter: To effectively transfer and use federal computer software while accommodating concerns about access to federal databases and shifting federal laboratories' basic research mission, Congress should consider providing copyright and licensing authorities for federal software with wider commercial applications that needs further investment to be effectively transferred. This change could be accomplished by amending the Federal Technology Transfer Act (15 U.S.C. 3710a) to authorize agencies to copyright and grant licenses to federal software under a cooperative research and development agreement.

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Legislation, H.R. 191 and S. 1501, was introduced in the 102nd Congress to amend the Federal Technology Transfer Act to authorize agencies to copyright and license federal software developed under a cooperative research and development agreement. GAO testified before House and Senate committees supporting this legislation. However, it does not appear likely at this time that Congress will address the matter for congressional consideration.

    Matter: To effectively transfer and use federal computer software while accommodating concerns about access to federal databases and shifting federal laboratories' basic research mission, Congress should consider extending the Federal Technology Transfer Act's royalty-sharing authority (15 U.S.C. 3710c) to include federal software. In addition, if the copyright law is amended, it would be appropriate to include procedures similar to those required for granting patent licenses (35 U.S.C. 209) to ensure fairness in granting an exclusive or partially exclusive license for federal software to a nonfederal entity and diligence by the licensee in commercializing the software.

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: It does not appear likely at this time that Congress will address the matter for congressional consideration.

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