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Senator Bob Dole: A Staunch Defender of His Country, and Our Patent System

“On Capitol Hill, it’s often said that there are work horses who get things done and show horses who play to the media. It was never in doubt where to place Senator Dole.”

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bob_Dole#/media/File:U.S._SENATOR_FROM_KANSAS_ROBERT_DOLE,_STANDS_ON_A_PICK-UP_TRUCK_BED_WHICH_IS_ONE_OF_THE_PARADE_UNITS_IN_COTTONWOOD..._-_NARA_-_557059.jpg

Dole in Emporia, Kansas, 1974. Photo by Patricia DuBose Duncan (public domain).

If you’re going into a desperate fight, there are some people that you want on your side. One was Robert Dole, who passed away yesterday, December 5, at 98 years old. Here’s how Senator Birch Bayh described what happened to Bob Dole in the waning days of World War II:

Bob is a true representative of “The Greatest Generation” that literally saved the world, and then came home to build the most prosperous nation in history.

In 1942, Bob joined the army and was assigned to the Italian front. Today we don’t hear much about the vicious fighting in Italy. It was not glamorous. The campaign consisted of pushing the Germans off a seemingly endless series of fortified mountains at great personal cost. The farther we advanced, the tougher it became. As a 22-year-old Second Lieutenant, Bob was doing what Second Lieutenant’s do– leading from the front. Just weeks before the surrender, Bob Dole was hit by fire from a German machine gun. He was hurt so badly that another GI gave him the largest dose of morphine possible, then wrote “M” on Bob’s forehead in Dole’s own blood, because if following squads gave Lt. Dole another shot, he would die. Bob lay on the battlefield for nine hours before being evacuated. He remained hospitalized for more than three years. Upon recovery he studied law and dedicated his life to public service.

It was characteristic of his generation—and of Bob Dole—to honor his fallen colleagues, even when he was bound in a wheelchair. Few who saw it will ever forget Senator Dole insisting on getting up and walking to the coffin of his friend, Senator Daniel Inouye, who lost an arm fighting in Italy, close to where Dole was wounded. Even though his health was deteriorating last year when we honored Bayh-Dole’s 40th anniversary, Senator Dole made a very gracious video tribute to his former colleague, Senator Birch Bayh. That Birch Bayh and Daniel Inouye were Democrats made no difference to Bob Dole.

Senator Dole insisted on being lifted out of his wheelchair so he could stand and salute President George H. W. Bush as his coffin lay in state in the Capitol Rotunda. Bush enlisted on his 18th birthday and was the youngest Navy flyer when his fighter was shot down in the Pacific.

Like President Bush, Senator Inouye, and so many others, Bob Dole had a front row seat to the carnage of the Second World War. He never regained the use of his right arm.

An Unlikely and Pro-Patent Partnership

Senators Bayh and Dole were on opposite sides of the political spectrum, clashing on many issues. But when they discovered that billions of dollars of taxpayer-supported R&D was being squandered because the incentives intended by the patent system to spur commercialization had been destroyed, they formed an unlikely partnership to overhaul the system.

Senators Birch Bayh (left) and Bob Dole https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Bayh_and_Dole.jpg, Dole Photograph Collection, University of Kansas

That led to what became the Bayh-Dole Act of 1980, which was the first pro-patent legislation to emerge from Congress in many years. It decentralized technology management from the Washington bureaucracy into the hands of those academic institutions and small companies which made inventions with government support. It restored the incentives of patent ownership, laid down a few rules and got Washington out of the way. Bayh-Dole helped spark a miracle as the U.S. economy recovered from the doldrums of the 1970s with one of the greatest bursts of innovation in human history. It’s playing a critical role in our response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which is leading the world in developing desperately needed therapies.

Senator Dole was anything but a passive partner in that effort. The law passed in a lame duck session of Congress when Senator Bayh had been defeated. The resulting Senate session was like the fall of Afghanistan, as everyone scrambled to get their bills passed before Congress ended. Only those which could be passed unanimously would even be considered. After a series of adventures, Bayh-Dole was added to the list, but the Senate Majority Leader called the legislation up when Senator Bayh was away from his office. In desperation, I found Senator Dole emerging from the Senate cloakroom, explained the situation, and he said: “Follow me.” I handed him the statement that I’d prepared for Senator Bayh, we quickly wrote in “Senator Dole”, and he called the bill up and got it passed.

No Ally Left Behind

But that wasn’t the end of the story. Many lawyers at the Department of Energy resented Bayh-Dole decentralizing patent ownership from their micromanagement and launched an effort to undermine the implementing regulations while the new Reagan Administration was just taking office.

Getting wind of their shenanigans, Dole alerted his friend, then Vice President George Bush, and the attacks were rebuffed as the Reagan Administration endorsed Bayh-Dole.

Senator Dole later amended the law to move its oversight and implementation to the Department of Commerce, where a staunch champion of the legislation, Norman Latker, had been moved. Latker was the former patent counsel at the National Institutes of Health, which sought to fire him during the Carter Administration for supporting Bayh-Dole. Latker was only saved due to the involvement of Senators Bayh and Dole. Bob Dole didn’t believe in abandoning his allies in their time of need.

When President Reagan wondered why federal laboratories weren’t enjoying the same success as universities under Bayh-Dole, it was explained that they lacked similar authorities. As a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Senator Dole introduced legislation to extend the law’s authority to the federal laboratory system. However, because the House lacked similar legislation, Dole could only get university operated federal laboratories covered before he left the Committee to become Senate Majority Leader. The remaining piece of his legislation was later enacted as the Federal Technology Transfer Act, another seminal piece of legislation inspired by Senator Robert Dole.

The Economist Technology Quarterly said: “Possibly the most inspired piece of legislation to be enacted in America over the past half century was the Bayh-Dole Act of 1980… More than anything, this single policy measure helped to reverse America’s precipitous slide into industrial irrelevance.” Much of that credit goes to Senator Robert Dole.

A Clear Legacy

Bob Dole answered his country’s call when the nation was imperiled in World War II. He paid a grievous personal price for that service. He was equally stalwart during his long Congressional service. On Capitol Hill, it’s often said that there are work horses who get things done and show horses who play to the media. It was never in doubt where to place Senator Dole.

Senator Robert Dole long labored in his nation’s service. He was a fitting representative of the Greatest Generation, both in war and peace. God bless you, sir. You’re going to be missed.

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3 comments so far. Add my comment.

  • [Avatar for Jim Carmichael]
    Jim Carmichael
    December 6, 2021 03:36 pm

    A beautiful and fitting tribute to a great American.

  • [Avatar for Pro Say]
    Pro Say
    December 6, 2021 03:52 pm

    Thank you for a wonderful tribute Joseph.

    Bob was a great American who would have made a great President.

  • [Avatar for Jean Zettler]
    Jean Zettler
    December 6, 2021 10:48 pm

    When I lived in NoVA, frequently participated in Honor Flights. Bob Dole & wife often appeared to Honor the Vets mostly from Korea & Vietnam, & there were some WW2 vets. Dole tried to shake the hands of all the Vets & the Vets felt very proud to shake his hand

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