Conversations with DoD & the White House on Federal Tech Transfer Initiatives
Last week I gave a presentation at a tech transfer workshop for the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD). This workshop was well timed, given President Obama’s recent memorandum announcing a new directive requiring all federal research labs to bolster and streamline technology transfer efforts to increase the likelihood and efficiency of getting research results to market. Attendees at the DoD meeting discussed the memo as well as possible solutions, as each agency has been tasked with presenting a plan back to the President on how they will achieve his goals.
Possible solutions have been at the top of my mind recently as well. In fact, since the initiative was released last month, I have exchanged e-mails and had a conversation with key staff in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. In these exchanges, I outlined seven primary action items for achieving the goals of the memo at federal labs, many of which have already started to take steps to address these items.
1. Create goals and metrics to better track performance for 2013-2017 and create centralized data collection.
I shared Fuentek’s white paper How’d We Do?: Establishing Useful Technology Transfer Metrics, which reviews our recommended process for setting up such goals and measurements. I also offered information about several small U.S. business-owned data collection systems that could be considered for central data collection of all federal lab technology information. These are off-the-shelf systems that already have the capabilities needed, thereby saving the government development costs while supporting existing U.S. small businesses.
2. Seek recommendations for improving the technology transfer process
Fuentek’s screen-assess-market model for managing intellectual property proactively, efficiently, and effectively provides an example of an industry best practice that can be extended to all federal agencies. (Most already use some version of it.) The biggest complaint that inventors and potential partners have about working with government tech transfer is how slow the process is, from processing invention disclosures to negotiating deals (see #4 below). This is not unique to the government, but it is something that can definitely be improved upon by following the filtering model consistently.
3. Include tech transfer performance as part of federal lab evaluation
Historically, tech transfer has not been given high importance at most federal labs. Thus behavior and culture within these organizations will be impacted only by performance evaluation from the top down. Agency directors must understand the value of technology transfer (including economic development and beyond) in order for federal tech transfer programs to be successful.
4. Reduce negotiation time
The time required to negotiate CRADAs, licenses, and other agreements must be shortened in order to strengthen deal flow in a tech transfer process that is currently perceived by industry as lethargic. Fuentek created the two-step agreement process to help alleviate some of this issue as well as to address corporate complaints that the government requirements are difficult to deal with. But more can be done. Giving tech transfer staff adequate resources and appropriate incentives would help speed up the process as would fostering a “we’re open for business” attitude among agencies’ legal departments and other offices with a hand in tech transfer agreement pipeline. In particular, streamlining sign-off authority would help shorten the negotiation process as would developing standard agreements and processes that are consistent across agencies.
5. Create a publicly accessible database for inventions
Marketing technologies online is a key step in every tech transfer office’s business, and this should also happen across federal labs. There are online technology portals for NASA, the Department of Energy, and the National Institute of Science and Technology. Given the commonalities among these sites, it would make sense to streamline them across all federal labs. At the very least, a centralized IP management database (as discussed in #1 above) would help streamline posting to multiple sites such as FlintBox and AUTM’s Global Technology Portal.
6. Share federal expertise with businesses
By offering the expertise of those working in federal labs to potential partners and licensees, federal labs can build relationships of trust and provide reassurance about their technologies, keeping the lines open for potential further development of the technology for a specific industry need. In the open innovation model, this also serves as an R&D approach. (See the white papers in the open innovation section of our In-Depth Insights page for more on this topic.)
7. Cooperate/Partner with local incubators and research parks to better exploit federal inventions and capabilities
Local research organizations and public-private partnerships are key grassroots endeavors that can help bring the national capabilities of federal labs to concentrated communities. NASA’s Glenn Research Center is demonstrating this with its engagement in local collaboration through a recent automotive industry workshop and an upcoming technology showcase.
Of course, all of these actions call for resources to implement them, requiring the government to fund tech transfer offices at a consistent level. As I’ve blogged previously, the current situation of incremental funding via continuing resolution is not adequate to support effective technology transfer. (In fact, it is detrimental to it.)
In addition, it is my hope that the the federal agencies will look beyond the walls of their individual labs and seek cooperative solutions with each other. Only then will we see the economies of scale on a magnitude that only the government can create through its sheer volume of innovation.