State News

Private funding for UW research could shed red tape under bipartisan bill

A group of bipartisan lawmakers are working to introduce legislation that would ease regulations for UW researchers to contract with private companies they may have personal interests in.

Image By: Amileah Sutliff

Researchers at the UW System will have an easier time privately funding and commercializing their discoveries under a new bipartisan bill in the drafting process.

Current law prohibits public employees from entering into contracts if they have private financial interest in the project. Proponents of the new legislation say it would fix the current law which is slow and time-consuming, leading to lost contracts.

The legislation ls, allows researchers who work for the university to contract with a private company that they have a financial or other type of stake in and is sponsored by state Sen. Dan Feyen, R-Fond du Lac, state Sen. Fred Risser, D-Madison, state Rep. David Murphy, R-Greenville, state Rep. Terese Berceau, D-Madison, and former state Sen. Sheila Harsdorf, R-River Fal

“The Wisconsin economy is losing ground in research and development (R&D) business-creation,” the legislators said in a statement. “This is due to unnecessary delays and red tape preventing entrepreneurs from starting up businesses with patents and spin-off opportunities produced by our public universities' research.”

Wisconsin's conflict of interest regulations for university employees will still be

consistent with those of other public universities but will remove barriers that currently suppress Wisconsin small business creation, according to the lawmakers.

The bill would also implement a plan to screen for potential conflicts of interest between the researcher and the private entity rather than employ the current structure in which the UW Board of Regents reviews the contract during a 45-day period.

Nonprofits and businesses would also fall under the umbrella of “research company” under the law, allowing System schools to contract with those type of companies as well.

UW-Madison, which has fallen in recent years from its title as one of the top five research institutions in the nation, received $42.8 million less in research and development funding from private businesses compared to the other top-five research institutions according to the lawmakers.

UW-Madison also received $55.5 million less than the average amount granted by non-profits.

PROFS, the lobbying organization for UW-Madison faculty, supports the legislation, stating they are “pleased” it is in the process of being introduced. UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank and UW System President Ray Cross have also expressed support for the bill.

The bill is in circulation for co-sponsors until Monday. 

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