FLC News

Commerce Releases Government-wide Technology Transfer Report, 2009


by Gary Jones

FLC Washington, DC Representative

Greetings from D.C. In 2009, federal technology transfer programs across 11 agencies produced over 3,100 new Cooperative Research and Development Agreements (CRADAs) (just over 7,700 active); disclosed over 4,400 new inventions; filed over 2,000 new patents (nearly 1,500 issued); managed just under 11,000 active licenses; and generated $154 million total income on all active licenses. More importantly, the outcomes from these activities helped boost agriculture production; supported nanoscale measuring accuracy; provided advances in power generation for military use; improved solar cell and other renewable energy technologies; developed prostate cancer treatment and enhanced HIV detection capabilities; and created simulators for training military and civilian protection forces, among many other examples.

These statistics can be found in the recently released Federal Laboratory Technology Transfer, Fiscal Year 2009, Summary Report to the President and Congress, prepared annually by the Department of Commerce. As noted in this column over the past two years, this report provides government-wide results of federal technology transfer activities and includes both quantitative (e.g., number of licenses, earned royalty income, etc.) and qualitative (e.g., anecdotal evidence of downstream outcomes and benefits) measures by agency and a summary at the national level.

DOD and DOC again had the highest number of active CRADAs in the fiscal year (2,870 and 2,386, respectively), accounting for 67 percent of all CRADA activity among the 11 agencies; DOE and NASA disclosed the greatest number of new inventions (1,439 and 1,373, respectively), combining for 63 percent of all invention disclosures; DOE (5,752), NASA (2,497) and HHS (1,584) were responsible for the most active licenses (equaling 90 percent of all licensing); and three agencies (HHS, DOE, DOD, in descending order) were responsible for 83 percent of all licensing income received across agencies.

As reported in the prior two years, the data clearly indicates that technology transfer is a "steady, mature program" that is actively pursued across all agencies. The challenge remains how to best measure and highlight performance. Quantitative statistics offer only a necessary, but insufficient, picture of federal technology transfer success. The real measure of success, in my opinion, is how the results of our national investment in R&D can help drive national economic growth and competitiveness while meeting critical societal and agency-mission needs. The downstream outcomes section of this report helps illustrate that benefit.

The data in this report is useful for addressing the impact and benefit of federal technology transfer, but only if taken in its entirety (getting past just looking at the quantitative data). The danger is when the casual observer looks only at the quantitative data and goes no further. Patents, licenses, and CRADAs are important tools by which technology transfer is accomplished, but it’s what they lead to downstream that provides the real benefits of federal technology transfer. This is a message that the tech transfer community knows well and must continue to communicate.

The report can be found at http://www.nist.gov/tpo/publications/upload/Federal-Lab-TT-Report-FY2009.pdf.

Gary can be reached at gkjones@federallabs.org.

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