FILE - In this Dec. 13, 2018, file photo, a gate opens to the Harvard University campus in Cambridge, Mass. The U.S. Education…
FILE - A gate opens to the Harvard University campus in Cambridge, Mass., Dec. 13, 2018. A Harvard professor was charged in January 2020 with lying about receiving millions in funding from Chinese research agencies and not reporting it properly.

A bipartisan bill has been introduced to prevent foreign competitors such as China from stealing U.S. intellectual property developed at U.S. colleges and universities.

The Safeguarding American Innovation Act introduced Thursday by Senators Rob Portman, a Republican from Ohio, and Democrat Tom Carper from Delaware aims to protect university-led research from theft.  

The bill includes provisions to standardize the federal grant process and to strengthen visa exchange programs by implementing safeguards of foreign nationals seeking access to sensitive technologies.  

The senators based their legislation on their 2019 report that asserts that American taxpayers have unknowingly contributed to the rise of the Chinese economy and military through China's "talent recruitment" tactics. 

The report states that the Chinese government has been recruiting scientists and researchers to transfer intellectual property developed by U.S. colleges and universities to China. In a recent high-visibility case, a Harvard professor was charged with lying about receiving millions in funding from Chinese research agencies and not reporting it properly.

Harvard University professor Charles Lieber is surrounded by reporters as he leaves the Moakley Federal Courthouse in Boston,…
Harvard Professor Arrest Highlights Intellectual Property Espionage
US colleges, universities, research labs, and industry partners are struggling with how to identify what they see as Chinese coercion and intellectual property theft

Portman and Carper – chairman and ranking member of the permanent subcommittee on investigations, respectively – received support from research universities for their proposed legislation.  

This bill "will strengthen the security and integrity of our nation's scientific and research enterprise, something we at Ohio State take very seriously," said Morley O. Stone, senior vice president for research at Ohio State University in Columbus.

"Wright State University, as a productive research institution, strongly supports this legislation to ensure the protection of U.S. research and intellectual property against theft," said Sue Edwards, president of Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio.

One observer of the IP discussion said the U.S. should stay ahead of competitors.  

"America could prevail through ingenuity and determination," commented Josh Malone on IPWatchdog.com. "If we increase the rate of innovation, we could constantly pump out superior technologies and stay ahead."

A self-described independent inventor using the handle Ternary commented that an improved patent system in the U.S. would spark innovation here.  

"I am less worried about Chinese theft of my IP rights than the extraordinary difficulties and costs to establish my valid IP rights here," Ternary said. "We are our own worst enemy." 

Others voiced concerns that the bill will interfere with scientific collaboration with other countries.  

"Will the Safeguarding American Innovation Act end up being a bill to protect research and innovation on US campuses or a bill that will harm American science collaboration and economic interests?" tweeted Jordan LaCrosse, a lobbyist on Capitol Hill.  

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