Legal status of NASA inventions?

A few years ago, I was visiting the Kennedy Space Center in Florida (launch day, STS-118). The bus driver / tour guide (a very talkative fellow) was telling us that all technologies developed by NASA were unpatented and available to everybody, and (IIRC) that it was even possible for any individual to claim intellectual property of a NASA invention.

This doesn’t seem to make much sense, and I don’t see how this all fits with ITAR and other restrictions on space-related technologies.

So what’s the straight dope on this?

That also raises another question: how many of the major technologies were invented “by NASA” (as opposed to CalTech/JPL, Rockwell, Lockheed, IBM, Bell Labs, etc.?)

Seems like the inventions are patented, but also made available for licenses.


This is almost certainly untrue, if by “claiming intellectual property” you mean patenting it then defending that patent against others who would practice the invention. The NASA invention would establish that the invention was prior art and already in the public domain.

You could conceivably slip the existence of prior art past the patent examiners, but it would be difficult to defend the patent against any competent and decently funded opponent, and if they could show you were aware of, and withheld the prior art from the patent, you might even end up paying their legal bills.

Thanks everyone, I figured as much.