FLC News

New Report on Federal Technology Transfer


by Gary Jones

FLC Washington, DC Representative

Greetings from D.C. The Department of Commerce has released a study baselining technology transfer efforts across the U.S. federal laboratory system. While the study focuses primarily on the technology commercialization aspect of tech transfer (as opposed to other methods for delivering the results of the federal investment in R&D into the market), it nevertheless is a useful addition to the current literature on the topic.

The study, Technology Transfer and Commercialization Landscape of the Federal Laboratories, is based on discussions with representatives from 13 agencies, 26 labs and 33 other organizations; and it addresses the basics—like factors affecting program success, strategies employed to overcome identified barriers, and how to define and measure success—with an eye to providing “an [overall] understanding of technology transfer and commercialization activities at the laboratories….”

The nine factors identified as affecting tech transfer efforts at federal labs include: 1) laboratory mission (e.g., some labs are more inclined toward tech transfer due to the overall agency/lab mission), 2) laboratory management (e.g., reflects differences between the various lab management models and their respective drivers), 3) congressional support and oversight (e.g., shifting congressional priorities may affect the long-term perspective needed for tech transfer), 4) agency leadership and laboratory director support (e.g., there are varying levels of management support for tech transfer across agencies/labs), 5) organization and coordination of technology transfer and commercialization activities (e.g., centralization versus decentralization of technology transfer functions at the agency and lab levels can affect policy

implementation), 6) Offices of Research and Technology Applications (e.g., varying levels of expertise exist within the tech transfer offices across agencies), 7) researchers

(e.g., varying levels of understanding among the scientific researchers regarding the business needs of the program has an impact on success), 8) government-industry interactions (e.g., federal laboratories are not visible and accessible to industry at a level necessary to support the tech transfer mission), and 9) resources (e.g., there are varying levels of resources devoted to tech transfer across agencies).

The study also tackled a perennial issue for this and any federal program—how to define and measure success. While space prohibits a full discussion of the findings here, suffice it to say the study was less than laudatory concerning the ability of federal agencies and labs to answer questions regarding technology transfer performance measures.

On the surface, one may be tempted to look at this study as just another “state-of-the-state” assessment of a particular (albeit dear to our hearts) federal program, destined to be read and soon put on a shelf. Doing that may be a mistake. As the authors note in the Executive Summary, they were asked “to study the landscape of technology transfer

and commercialization at the federal laboratories to serve as a baseline for further action (emphasis added).” How Commerce responds to the study (e.g., potential new policies) could impact the federal tech transfer community in any number of ways. Stay tuned.

The study can be found at (https://www.ida.org/upload/stpi/pdfs/p-4728nsfinal508compliantfedlabttcreport.pdf.)

Gary can be reached at gkjones@federallabs.org.

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