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A Licensing Flywheel Program to Speed Innovation

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Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) has introduced a novel Licensing Flywheel Program that facilitates technology transfer (T2) by making it easier for prospective licensees to quickly and easily obtain evaluation samples and data related to PNNL available technologies.  (more)

The Flywheel Program is named for the mechanical flywheel effect, in which energy is stored and released when needed. In PNNL’s T2-specific version, “stored” licensing revenue can be rapidly released to power additional licensing momentum with new companies. The unconventional program has already helped multiple companies assess PNNL-developed chemistries for lithium batteries, and it will soon be used for assessment of advanced cements, fertilizer injection devices and superhydrophobic coatings.

Commercializing energy, environment or national security solutions developed at PNNL often involves the difficult task of disrupting established markets. For many companies, it can be too great a leap to immediately execute a full-blown commercial license while they still have outstanding questions. They desire additional information and materials to evaluate the invention in the context of their own business, systems and products.  

However, it often takes companies significant time and money to independently generate evaluation samples and data based solely on published information. Alternatively, companies can sponsor research at PNNL through the Strategic Partnership Projects program (SPP) or the Agreement for Commercializing Technology (ACT) mechanism. These are powerful technology transfer tools, but they can be overly complex for the simple task of obtaining items such as a sample or a piece of specific data.

To address these challenges and facilitate industry engagement, PNNL’s Flywheel Program initiates a Department of Energy (DOE)-approved project that draws on the lab’s royalty revenues to cover its time and materials for generating the samples or data on behalf of a commercialization manager. 

Commercialization managers then include the samples or data as part of a technology transfer package including a fee-bearing, research-use license. The royalties from these licenses then generate additional Use at Facility Funds (UAFF) revenue. The revenues can provide a source of funds for follow-on projects and technology transfer activities. 

As with a flywheel, an initial input generates a better result by leveraging the interactions that the initial activity creates and recouping itself.  

This creates a win-win-win for all stakeholders. The company gets to test-drive a technology, paving the way to commercialization. The cost of developing the samples for prospective partner evaluation is funded and approved by DOE. The commercialization managers facilitate the transfer of lab technologies in a timely manner, while stewarding the lab’s UAFF budget. 

The program has already expedited evaluation samples for PNNL’s Localized High Concentration Electrolytes (LHCE) technology among three companies. PNNL anticipates extending the mechanism to evaluation samples for other technologies, including its self-healing cements, superhydrophobic foul-release coatings, agriculture nutrient injection devices and solid nitride fertilizers.

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Team members 
Allan Tuan, PNNL, Ji-Guang (Jason) Zhang, PNNL, and Lindsie Canales, PNNL