The Federal Laboratory Consortium for Technology Transfer facilitates research translation by government labs. International Innovation talks to Paul Zielinski about how they are achieving this goal.
Could you briefly outline the Federal Laboratory Consortium for Technology Transfer’s (FLC) mission?
FLC was officially established by Congress through the Federal Technology Transfer Act in order to promote and strengthen the transfer of technology from federal laboratories. FLC does not transfer technology itself – this is the responsibility of the member labs – and does not distribute government funds. However, FLC does provide a network to share information and allows the public to obtain information from across multiple agencies and hundreds of labs via a variety of tools and products. Through promoting, educating and facilitating technology transfer to our member labs and research facilities, we are able to achieve our mission of helping federal labs meet their commercialisation goals and advance economic growth.
How did the Stevenson-Wydler Technology Innovation Act of 1980 and the Federal Technology Transfer Act of 1986 affect the process of federal R&D?
These Acts remain a centrepiece of how federal R&D is transferred. The Stevenson-Wydler Act has made technology transfer an essential part of the mission of federal laboratories. The various provisions in the Act enable an active effort to not only create the new technology needed to meet agency mission objectives, but also use the nation’s investment in R&D to advance US competitiveness in the global marketplace. Technology transfer as part of the Act involves making use of the R&D results of federal labs, such as technology, services and processes, as well as promoting active collaboration with other labs.
The Federal Technology Transfer Act additionally gave federal labs a useful tool called the Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA). This highly flexible agreement is an important mechanism that lets laboratories form public-private partnerships to advance the agency mission, while helping to develop and deploy new technology for commercialisation.
Do the various government mechanisms for technology transfer differ according to agency?
There are many transfer mechanisms that are common across all federal labs, but there are also specific authorities that are unique to different agencies. These are often the result of how the US Government operates with different authorisation and appropriation subcommittees in Congress. A good example is the Space Act authority used by NASA – while all federal laboratories can form partnerships via CRADAs, NASA typically uses Space Act Agreements instead, which were created as part of the space race with the Soviet Union and predate CRADAs by more than 25 years.
FLC assists federal researchers by providing cross-agency information and maintaining lists of the various mechanisms available on our website. Additionally, the technology transfer offices created by the Stevenson-Wydler Act help the labs and potential partners find the best mechanisms to accomplish their goals.
What barriers exist in the process of technology transfer, and how does FLC support its partners through the process?
One of the bigge st barriers to technology transfer is communication. Federal labs are far more approachable and flexible than most people realise, with many new ideas and new technologies. Additionally, there are people in the labs who help new ideas and technologies come to fruition. Still, getting this information to small businesses and entrepreneurs when they need it, and can use it, is challenging. FLC provides a number of tools and services to break down this invisible barrier that sometimes exists between labs and industry. These tools, such as FLCBusiness, were created to make it easier for businesses and entrepreneurs to find the resources they need to further their technology goals.
As well as all of these resources, the networking opportunities provided by FLC cannot be overstated. When you consider the size of the federal lab system – over 300 laboratories from multiple agencies – it certainly is challenging to identify the right person with the desired information. Through tools such as the FLC Technology Locator – a type of concierge service that reaches out to labs to find specific information – FLC provides contacts for people engaged in technology transfer across the system.
In addition to finding the right partners, FLC also provides training and networking events to share best practices and ensure that lab staff know what they can do. As an example, we provide the Tech Transfer Playbook as a collection of best practices for our national laboratories.This synchronises programmes and informs staff about the breadth of available mechanisms.
Could you expand on the purpose of FLC Business?
It can be quite overwhelming to determine which of the hundreds of labs have the skills, expertise, facilities, equipment or mission interests to meet the needs of a business owner or entrepreneur. With that in mind, along with our mission to support the Government’s larger lab-to-market initiatives, we wanted to create a tool that could look across the whole system of hundreds of federal lab and facility profiles with one search. FLCBusiness.com is able to do just that. With the help of laboratory representatives and multiple sources, we collected data from labs across the country to create the FLC Business database, and are regularly adding more and more resource information to the site. It is a comprehensive search database that allows users to easily search and view available federal laboratory profiles, equipment and facilities, programmes, and funding opportunities. The database benefits users with its intuitive search capability, allowing the bank of information to be searched using various specifications such as technical area, geographic area or agency.
While our other technology transfer tools — such as the FLC Locator service and the Available Technologies Search Tool — offer meaningful introductions to specific lab personnel or information on federal technologies that are available for licensing, FLC Business provides an all-inclusive, intuitive search of federal laboratory resources that are ready for public use. It is essentially a one-stop shop for anyone looking to further their business development through federal resources.
In what ways does FLC work to involve Subject Matter Experts in technology transfer?
FLC works with all businesses, but Subject Matter Experts are a particular concern for FLC products and services. To new or small businesses, understanding the complexities of something as large as the federal research system can be overwhelming and time-consuming, requiring time and money they do not have. FLC can break down the barriers to the federal lab community and provide help in finding the right partner. It is not always easy to find the person who is working on your problem, but FLC and its members serve as a network that enable partnership connections to happen. Many of the tools we offer are designed to provide point-of-contact information, but when a Subject Matter Expert is ready to take the next step and act on the information we offer, FLC is always prepared to assist in providing a more conversant introduction to a potential lab partner.
Does FLC also work to include state and local governments with technology transfer?
We actually have a State and Local Government Committee that is designated to work with these groups, as well as six Regional Coordinators to address regional technology issues. As we often say, technology transfer is a contact sport. It is simply not enough to passively put information on a website and hope people will find it. Technology transfer requires a great deal of communication to find the people that are capable of bringing a technology to market and make the results of our research useful.
Is it possible for the successful technology transfers that FLC cultivates to bring socioeconomic gains to industry, researchers and the public outside the US?
Although US law has provisions to give preference to businesses that will manufacture products domestically, sometimes this is not the best route. The US assists the world in many areas and in some cases, such as research into a tropical disease or plant variety that helps provide nutrients, we may need a foreign partner. Federal labs are mission-driven and do not perform random research. Where appropriate, we work with partners globally to meet the mission need while making the benefits of the research available to our own citizens.
Finally, who benefits from technology being transferred from federal laboratories to the market?
It is hard to imagine who doesn’t gain from the technology transfer process. The public has already invested tax dollars in research and reaping the benefits of that investment is what technology transfer is about. The US Government does not make many things; we rely on the private sector to produce, market and distribute goods – even products that the Government itself buys. We therefore need partners that will take the ideas that result from federal research and bring them to the marketplace. This transfer can build new and small businesses or infuse new innovations into large existing operations, which helps to keep the US at the forefront of innovation and makes us competitive in the global marketplace.
The Government accomplishes its mission of deploying new technology that solves a problem, and the private sector creates jobs and provides benefits such as new products and services while generating revenue. While some other nations direct and fund the launch of technology, this integration between lab technology development and the common marketplace drives innovation in the US. As new companies adopt innovations, they use private funding rather than government funds to bring technologies to practical application and reap the benefits while driving new growth.
If you are in the US looking to work with world-class technical experts and facilities or are searching for new technologies that can benefit your business, FLC has the tools and services needed to engage federal resources and progress innovation.
Courtesy of International Innovation – a leading scientific dissemination service.