PUBLISHED:September 26, 2014

Longtime National Academies’ STEP leader Merrill joins Center for Innovation Policy as executive director

Stephen Merrill, the longtime head of the National Academies Board on Science, Technology, and Economic Policy (STEP), has joined the Duke Law Center for Innovation Policy as its first Executive Director. The Center’s mission is to address  issues of innovation law and policy in several sectors, including the life sciences and information and communications technology.  Merrill will also be a Senior Fellow at Duke University’s Innovation and Entrepreneurship Initiative.

Merrill’s extensive work on innovation policy during his 23-year-tenure as STEP Executive Director included a 2004 report on patent system reform that served as a blueprint for the America Invents Act of 2011. He brings “an unparalleled understanding of the policy process in all areas relevant to the Center,” said Arti Rai, the Elvin R. Latty Professor of Law and a founding co-Director of the Center.  As Administrator of External Affairs at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) in 2009 and 2010, Rai relied heavily on Merrill’s report to assess the merits of competing patent reform proposals.

“It’s exciting to strengthen the ties between Duke’s outstanding faculty and Washington policymakers and to develop new ideas to promote innovation and growth,” Merrill said.

Leaders in the area of innovation policy have lauded the appointment.

"Duke is fortunate to have recruited one of the most knowledgeable and influential insiders in the field of innovation policy,” said Rick Levin, former president of Yale University who worked with Merrill on the 2004 report, entitled  “A Patent System for the 21st Century.” “Steve Merrill is remarkable for the broad scope of his expertise, his connections to everyone in the field, and his unflappable pursuit of sensible, practical solutions to the most complex policy problems."

Dale Jorgenson, the Samuel W. Morris University Professor at Harvard University, and a founding STEP Board member, adds that Merrill “led the Board to its present position as a pre-eminent voice of the Academy in debates over the future of U.S. science and technology policy.”

Former United States Senator Jeff Bingaman currently serves as a STEP Board member. "During his many years at the National Academy of Sciences Steve demonstrated a keen understanding of the factors which are most important in fostering innovation and entrepreneurship,” Bingaman said. “He should be a great executive director for the Duke Law Center for Innovation Policy."

Paul Michel, former chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, the court that hears all patent appeals in the United States, calls the 2004 patent reform report “a monumental and rational effort that emphasized facts and analysis over ideology and assumptions.”

“Steve Merrill was and is a voice of reason in the otherwise overly contentious debate that continues today,” Michel said. “Duke Law School demonstrated foresight and deserves great credit in selecting him to head this Center.”

The 2004 patent reform report was one of numerous projects and publications Merrill oversaw at STEP. The list includes “Innovation Inducement Prizes” (2007), “Innovation in Global Industries” (2008), “The Dragon and the Elephant: The Development of Innovation Capacity in China and India” (2010), “Copyright in the Digital Era” (2013), and “Effects of US Tax Policy on Greenhouse Gas Emissions” (2013). With the sponsorship of numerous federal government agencies, foundations, multinational corporations, international institutions and individual contributors, the STEP program under Merrill became an important discussion forum and authoritative voice on innovation, competitiveness, intellectual property, human resources, tax, standards, research and development, and related policies.

His work dovetails with the research and scholarship goals of the center, founded in 2013 by Rai, an internationally recognized expert in intellectual property law, administrative law, and health policy, and Stuart Benjamin, the Douglas B. Maggs Professor of Law, a leading scholar of telecommunications law, administrative law, and the First Amendment.

The center’s inaugural conference, held in November 2013, focused on biopharmaceutical innovation; their upcoming conference examining internet regulation will be held in Washington, D.C. on October 17.

"In many ways we want to do the same things as the National Academies, but in an academic setting," said Benjamin.

Wesley Cohen, a faculty affiliate of the Center and the Frederick C. Joerg Professor of Business Administration at the Fuqua School of Business, said that “Steve has played a key role in the national conversations around the numerous policies affecting innovation. Indeed, Steve uniquely reflects the expertise and wisdom that comes from more than twenty years of engagement with academics, private sector professionals, policy makers and industrialists.”

Prior to founding STEP at the National Academies, Merrill served as a fellow in International Business at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), where he specialized in technology trade issues. He earlier served on various congressional staffs including that of the U.S. Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, where he organized the first congressional hearings on international competition in the semiconductor and biotechnology industries and contributed to the Stevenson-Wydler Technology Innovation Act of 1980 and other legislation.

Merrill holds degrees in political science from Columbia (B.A., summa cum laude), Oxford (M. Phil.), and Yale (M.A. and Ph.D.) Universities. He attended the Kennedy School of Government’s Senior Executives Program in 1992 and was an adjunct professor of international affairs at Georgetown University from 1989 to 1996.