Amidst the many articles and radio commentary on the passing of Birch Bayh on March 14, 2019, a liberal Senator from Indiana, few have noted Senator Bayh’s contribution to patent law and none as far as I can tell noted his engagement with Chinese IP officials when he celebrated his 80th birthday at SIPO on January 22, 2008.
I was privileged to spend that day with Senator Bayh, and to later call up the Senator to see if he was available to meet with the occasional visiting Chinese delegation to Washington, DC to talk about the impact of the Bayh Dole amendment on patent commercialization in the United States. He generously volunteered his time to meet with delegations, and his wife Kitty was always gracious in fielding my requests, even if I recognized that his advanced age made it difficult for him to travel from his home in eastern Maryland to Washington, DC.
When I told SIPO officials that the day he was lecturing at SIPO was also his birthday, he was surprised to see that by the end of his lecture, there was a birthday cake for him and a crowd of a 100 plus admirers singing “Happy Birthday to you.” As part of those trips, he also hosted press conferences on the Bayh Dole Act to introduce his perspectives on this groundbreaking legislation, providing for private ownership of IP rights derived from government-funded R&D. Whenever I talk or lecture about him to students, I still reflect on those visits.
Senator Bayh had many accomplishments that are better known to the average American. He was justly proud of having authored two constitutional amendments, and of legislation banning sexual discrimination in school athletics (Title IX). To me however, he was also a reminder of another, more gracious age. He and his wife were always generous with their time with me. He came from an age when Democrats worked across the aisle with Republicans in passing key legislation (such as with Senator Dole), and indeed when training and collaboration were key elements of our bilateral IP relationship with China.
My condolences to his family. I was fortunate to work with someone who gave so much to the American people and to its IP system. May his memory be a blessing.
Photo above of Birch Bayh discussing the Bayh-Dole Act at SIPO in 2007.