Honors Gallery

Exploratory License Open Doors to Promising Technology Transfer Opportunities

Award: Technology Transfer Innovation Award

Year: 2020

Award Type: National

Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL)

Potential industry partners who are interested in Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) technology but are intimidated by the prospect of a standard licensing agreement now have the option to test-drive the technology before making a bigger commitment.  

The laboratory’s Exploratory License is a low-cost, limited-term research license that lets a company use PNNL technologies for six months with the option to convert to a standard royalty-bearing license after that. Laboratory records indicate that 70% of the companies that complete the trial period have gone on to sign a standard license.  

Standard federal licensing agreements can take months to negotiate and can cost tens of thousands of dollars in fees, which can be a deterrent for some companies. Standard licensing also requires potential licensees to understand the technology being transferred before the agreement is finalized, which can seem daunting, especially if potential benefits aren’t clearly demonstrable from the outset.  

PNNL established its Exploratory License in 2015 to allay those concerns. The lab’s Technology Transfer Office and Legal Department can execute the agreement in about two weeks. The two-page application form takes just minutes to fill out, with only basic information required.

The terms are fixed, so no drawn-out negotiation is required, and the price is set at $1,000 to ensure a serious level of interest while also being manageable and low-risk for most companies. 

Exploratory License recipients are assured that the technology of interest will not be exclusively licensed to any other company during the trial period. Licensees are required to provide a progress report on any new advancements made to the technology during the exploratory time frame, which benefits the lab. 

The exploratory phase allows the prospective partner to become comfortable with PNNL, its technology developers and its commercialization approach. This makes pursuing a standard licensing agreement far less intimidating. 

These low-cost, short-term licenses have generated significant interest. Of the first 20 Exploratory Licenses executed by PNNL, seven were active when the application for this award was submitted, and nine of the remaining 13 had been converted into full licenses.  

One success story involves Perceptive Sensor Technologies (PST) LLC, which provides noninvasive liquid inspection technologies and used the exploratory period to verify that PNNL offered a technological platform capable of the high-sensitivity measurements the company needed. After the trial period ended, the company signed a standard licensing agreement that has resulted in a commercial product called FluIDTM. PST expects to create more than 150 new jobs in the next five years to support anticipated revenue growth of more than $100 million made possible by this technology transfer effort. 

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