By Nick Goldstein, vice president of regulatory and legal issues, ARTBA

ARTBA Sept. 5 submitted testimony to the House Highways & Transit Subcommittee calling for the repeal of a 102-year-old federal procurement rule that blocks the use of innovative products that could improve safety and quality on the nation’s major roadways.

The testimony follows ARTBA’s March petition to the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) seeking the same action. That request is still under consideration.

The rule was adopted in 1916 by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which then managed the nascent federal-aid highway program. It prohibits state and local governments from using patented or proprietary products on highway and bridge projects that receive federal funding, unless those products qualify for limited exceptions.

In its subcommittee testimony, ARTBA said that since many new technologies—particularly those marking a significant advance in quality, performance, or durability—incorporate intellectual property protected by patents or proprietary processes, the rule inevitably impedes the development and deployment of those same innovations that various congressional and USDOT initiatives are intended to foster.

“It is also important to point out that when states outright disallow a patented or proprietary product, they may be preventing a transformative solution to a serious problem from taking place in a timely manner,” ARTBA said.  “For example, every great paradigm shift in the bridge world originated from a patented idea or intellectual property, generally marketed as a proprietary product.”