Army Searches for Common Ground on IP Rights.

Author:Magnuson, Stew
Position:Editor's Notes

* "IP is one of my favorite topics. Do you have another hour?" Bruce Jette, assistant secretary of the Army for acquisition, logistics and technology, asked the moderator during a recent talk.

No. In fact, there was only 15 minutes remaining of the modernization panel discussion at the Association of the United States Army's annual conference. But a lot can be said in 15 minutes.

And when it comes to intellectual property--the sticky subject of patents, trade secrets and copyrights--both members of industry and government representatives usually have a lot to say.

The U.S. military wants access to as much IP as possible while spending as little as possible to acquire it. It can use things such as weapons schematics to allow it to recompete maintenance contracts, open up competitions to other contractors and drive down sustainment costs.

Industry wants to hold onto this proprietary information. It can take these designs and use them to create a monopoly on sustainment contracts for years in the case of some weapon systems.

That was pretty much the way things were done for decades. Who owns the IP of a weapon system was never addressed in contracts, and the weapon manufacturers could be assured of profits long after a manufacturing line was shut down.

But times have changed. The evolution from an analog world to a digital world with billions of lines of software becoming the lifeblood of modern weapon systems has only complicated matters. There isn't a software company in the world that wants to hand over its IP to competitors.

The IP rights controversy inevitably comes up in just about every trade show acquisitions discussion where industry and government share the stage, and the AUSA panel on the final day of the conference was no exception. The industry representative that day, Gwynne Shotwell, president and COO of SpaceX, was sympathetic to her government counterparts.

"I think the government gets ripped off when you pay 99 percent of the bill and contractors put in one or one-and-a-half percent of [internal research-and-development funds] and then they own the IP? That makes no sense to me."

"I agree with Gwynne," Army Futures Command Commander Gen. John M. Murray said, and let that be his last word on the matter that day.

Jette has put himself out in public as a leading voice in the government on the IP rights conundrum. He spearheaded the "Enabling Modernization Through the Management of Intellectual Property," policy paper released in...

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