DC Dispatch

T2 Touchpoint — January 23, 2019

Published biweekly as part of the FLC’s DC Perspective news content, T2 Touchpoint gathers updates from inside and around the technology transfer (T2) community. News is collected from agency publications, news sites and DC-central organizations, with original sources, contacts, and links provided in addition to our streamlined synopses. For more information and Touchpoint-related inquiries, please contact dcnews@federallabs.org.

Budget Bulletin

Latest Appropriations Package Boosts TMF to Attempt an End to Government Shutdown

In our previous T2 Touchpoint, we reported that the Technology Modernization Fund (TMF)—a next-generation initiative we’ve covered at length—would go unfunded after its $31.5 million of existing capital expires. Since then, both chambers of Congress have put forth their latest appropriations for consideration to stop the ongoing government shutdown. Within both the House and Senate versions of these budget omnibuses are provisions to extend TMF funding by $25 million. (Perhaps this is due to a July memo from the Office and Management and Budget (OMB), which stated “the [Trump] administration believes that any additional funding would be well-utilized and will continue working with the Congress to demonstrate the taxpayer value generated by the TMF.”)

The $25 million boost, if approved by the Trump administration, would raise the TMF’s ceiling to $175 million. As we explained in our TMF-centric Capitol Corner last year, six projects have begun, with each agency having five years to repay the near-$120 million awarded in the name of technology modernization. 

Policy Pulse

Chinese Tech Theft Bill Enters House

After a Senate introduction, a bill calling for a tightening of Chinese technological imports to and development in the United States has received a House counterpart. Both chambers of Congress have suggested the stand-up of the Office of Critical Technologies and Security, which would act against threats of intellectual property (IP) theft. (In the Senate, such a national security danger was coined by Mark Warner as “hybrid cyberwarfare.”)  The Office would also practice public outreach to educate on the national security implications of foreign tech transfer.

The full text of the House bill is not readable at this time, but the Senate version is available in its entirety here.

Combatting Cyber Threats Enters the Energy Sector with New Act

After it was tabled during the last Congress, Senators Jim Risch and Angus King reintroduced the Securing Energy Infrastructure Act. The bill, which unanimously passed the Senate last term, requires national laboratories to develop technologies to protect national power grids from hacking and other cyber threats. Like the unnamed Chinese tech theft bill above, the Act would also stand-up a group of agency stakeholders to evaluate the technology against this energy-targeting form of “hybrid cyberwarfare.”

Details of the Act beyond this are sparse, but the reintroduced text is available in its entirety here.

Agency Activities

ROI Initiative Green Paper Comments Released

Late last year, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) released its draft green paper on the agency’s Return of Investment (ROI) Initiative. We reported that the ROI Initiative was in place to identify core federal T2 principles and practices to protect and/or modify, as well as approaches to improve efficiency and reduce regulatory burdens to attract private-sector research and development (R&D) investment while decreasing lab-to-market turnaround times.

While we await the revised paper’s February publication date, the T2 nonprofit Association of University Technology Managers (AUTM) released its comments on the green paper to correct “seemingly minor details [which] could inadvertently negatively impact our finely tuned technology transfer ecosystem.”

The draft paper included measures to establish regulatory and administrative improvements that favor American technology manufacturing firms and methods, engage the private sector through more flexible partnership authorities, and strengthen technology entrepreneurship programs.

To best champion American manufacturing, AUTM agrees with NIST’s moves to streamline the waiver process for U.S. manufacturers to engage in T2. However, the organization suggests first making the waiver process uniform—current processes involve confusing waivers that impede technology implementation—and deployed government-wide to ensure that best practices get traded between agencies. In addition, nonexclusive licenses, a type of agreement that grants any number of licensees the right to an invention’s IP, should not be limited to U.S. manufacturing preferences, as nonexclusive licenses aren’t restricted in their country of origin or quantity.

To best encourage more partnerships between the public and private sectors, the green paper as written suggests homogenizing licensing practices across labs, agency authorities, and larger factions like academia. However, this goal is complicated by provisions in existing legislation, like the Bayh-Dole Act, which allow academic institutions to receive royalties for successful T2 and also gave the government limited oversight over the T2 process. Other partnership mechanisms, including the paper’s proposed expansion of Other Transaction Authorities (OTAs), should not deny rights afforded under the Bayh-Dole Act to tech firms.

AUTM’s comments can be read in full here.

Leaders of National Security Commission on AI Announced

This fiscal year’s iteration of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) established the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence (AI), which has recently confirmed its leadership. This is in addition to other AI initiatives that have taken place over the past year, including an interagency committee founded within the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC). This commission was formed to harness AI and its benefits to strengthen national security and the dominance of American leading-edge technology. (The NSTC committee, on the other hand, was formed to strengthen public-private partnerships to incubate and implement AI technology. There’s been no talk about how, or if, these coalitions will work together.)

Earlier this week, the commission selected the 15 tech experts staffed to work through the first fiscal year of funding, currently allotted at $10 million. The group will be led by Eric Schmidt, who currently consults with the Pentagon on issues as part of the Defense Innovation Board (DIB). In October, we reported that the DIB recommended that the Department of Defense found a center that studies both AI and machine learning to build expertise and technological superiority via industrial and academic cross-collaboration.

Other members of the commission include CEOs from Amazon Web Services and Oracle—two leaders at the forefront of commercial and government AI solutions—as well as members of the academic community. Per the NDAA, the committee will need to draft its first report on the state of American AI and plans to advance it; the first report is required to be published in February. More on this publication, and the committee, as it develops.

DC Dispatch