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Another Senate Bill Targets DOE Tech Transfer

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Greetings from D.C. Following on the heels of the America INNOVATES Act, introduced in the Senate in January (see February 2014 column), Senator Tom Udall (D-NM) has now introduced a second Senate bill targeting Department of Energy (DOE) technology transfer. Senator Udall’s Accelerating Technology Transfer to Advance Innovation for the Nation (ATTAIN) Act is designed to “improve the [DOE’s] technology transfer process and help innovators turn research into marketable products and businesses.”

As with the earlier bill, while highlighting the fact that the “finest scientists in the world are doing cutting-edge research” in DOE labs, Senator Udall highlights presumed shortcomings with DOE tech transfer, and notes that his bill will address “concerns that have been raised about the DOE’s technology transfer process.” He also makes a point of noting that his bill does not authorize any new funding, but focuses on organizational and programmatic changes.

Like the INNOVATES Act, the ATTAIN Act has roots in the ITIF report released last year focusing on DOE tech transfer writ large (see November 2013 column). Additionally, the ATTAIN Act also draws on a recent DOE Inspector General report on its tech transfer program, addressing several concerns noted therein.

The bill has three sections, the contents of which will, according to its author, improve the Department of Energy’s technology transfer capabilities in three key areas.

The first section establishes an Office of Advanced Research, Technology Transfer, and Innovation in Energy, under the direction of the Technology Transfer Coordinator appointed under the Energy Policy Act of 2005, to “improve the consolidation, coordination, and use of technology transfer resources of the Department.” As described in the press release, this section then “permanently authorizes new tools for the Secretary of Energy’s new department-wide technology transfer office to enable DOE to implement tech transfer responsibilities, measure, and report their progress.”

The second section establishes a Technology Transfer Corps (T2-Corps), modeled after the I-Corps of the National Science Foundation, to “support investments in entrepreneurs, mentors, and principal investigators.” The goal of the T2-Corps is to “invest in technology maturation, market assessment, and increasing industry and small business access to intellectual property and core capabilities of the [DOE labs].”

Finally, the third section addresses funding shortcomings in tech transfer. This section directs the DOE to establish a Technology Transfer Investment Initiative in partnership with the Small Business Administration (in conjunction with its SBIC program). The goal of the initiative is to “leverage the strengths of the SBIC program with the benefits of the T2-Corps teams completing the Department program,” with the expectation that this will “increase investment in innovative technologies and enable start-ups to access venture capital.”

Presumably, at some point these bills (INNOVATES and ATTAIN), possibly along with others, will merge into a single Senate bill—or be subsumed within a broader-scoped bill. While it’s still too soon to say what the outcome will be (i.e., what any final legislation, if any, may look like), it’s safe to say that DOE tech transfer has caught the eye of a growing number of legislators in the current session.

For more information, read the ATTAIN press release, the text of the bill, and the DOE IG report.

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