Special Advisor Jonathan Spielman took an unconventional path to becoming a technology transfer professional. That’s because his agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, didn’t have a tech transfer program until Spielman built one.
Historically, research and development activities at the FBI have been decentralized, with issues related to intellectual property (IP) handled in an ad hoc manner. There was confusion within the Bureau about whether innovations could or should be patent protected.
With no previous expertise in the field, Spielman researched IP and federal technology transfer, consulting with legal and innovation experts within the FBI to explore how tech transfer could be implemented. In an internal memorandum, he made the case for a new technology transfer program.
After senior executives approved the concept, Spielman established the program in 2020 by developing its concept of operations, securing program funding, and conducting outreach with FBI researchers. Input from technology transfer professionals within the FLC and at other agencies was also part of the process.
An acute challenge for the fledgling program is that the FBI does not have a dedicated patent attorney to help protect its intellectual property and to advise the program on technology transfer activities. Undeterred, Spielman parlayed his connections within the technology transfer community to come up with a solution involving partnership agreements with two other federal agencies.
The FBI signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with one agency to support the FBI in areas related to IP protection and general technology transfer expertise, and an interagency reimbursable agreement established a payment process for services. An MOU with another agency facilitates support for the mutually beneficial transfer and commercialization of FBI technologies.
In the program’s first year, the FBI received 13 invention disclosures—a significant increase from the previous years, in which the agency had averaged just two disclosures per year and mostly from FBI’s headquarters location. Under the new program the disclosures come from eight field-office inventors based at seven different locations around the United States.
The new program’s technology transfer accomplishments included:
The filing of one patent application and eight provisional patent applications
The FBI’s first patent license agreement, which makes a public safety bomb technician tool commercially available
The FBI’s first Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) to develop new applications of DNA technology for forensic body fluid identification
A second CRADA was in the final stages of review at the time of this award submission
The FBI’s first royalty revenues
An IP management plan for an invention jointly developed by the FBI and a university research facility
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