Dr. Walter G. Copan: Curating a T2-Focused Culture, from the Green Paper to NIST on a Chip

Award Year 

As under secretary of commerce for standards and technology and the director of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) from October 2017 to January 2021, Dr. Walter Copan shaped the culture at NIST to a workforce heavily focused on technology transfer (T2). (more)

As NIST director, Copan’s many T2 achievements ranged from increasing external collaborative efforts to creating internal programs to discover and develop the most innovative technologies. 

One of Copan’s premier projects and greatest examples of T2 leadership at NIST was his Return on Investment (ROI) Initiative for Unleashing American Innovation, the largest stakeholder engagement effort for federal and federally funded T2 in its 40-year-plus history. This initiative culminated in the 2019 publication of the ROI Initiative’s Green Paper, which contains 15 findings identifying stakeholder concerns and possible short- and long-term actions to modernize the U.S. system of technology transfer and innovation. Since its publication, NIST has led the interagency charge to address findings in need of legislative or regulatory changes for implementation. 

Copan oversaw the growth of an innovative technical support program for Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) centers across the country through the MEP-Assisted Technology and Technical Resource (MATTR) service. During his tenure at NIST, the MATTR service initiated its first two Cooperative Research and Development Agreements (CRADAs) between NIST personnel and MEP centers around the country, opening the doors for formal partnerships and collaborative efforts to advance manufacturing for small and medium-size U.S. manufacturers.

Copan has promoted and championed collaborations with the Federal Laboratory Consortium (FLC) and the Licensing Executives Society (LES). Notably, he supported NIST’s work with the FLC on a 2019 federal T2 event in Puerto Rico, as well as NIST’s participation in the development of intellectual property licensing standards through the LES Standards Development Organization. 

Recognizing that some of the greatest T2 opportunities were in the communities surrounding two NIST campuses, Copan also supported regional innovation ecosystem efforts locally in Gaithersburg, Maryland, and Boulder, Colorado.

Copan has actively encouraged participation of laboratory staff in the technology transfer activities coordinated by NIST’s Technology Partnerships Office, as well as encouraged NIST staff to engage in T2-related training. Copan’s innovative roadmap-based strategy for the “NIST on a Chip” T2 effort, which focused on quantum-based measurement technologies, has already resulted in six CRADAs and several licenses, and additional marketing efforts are underway. 

During Copan’s tenure, a new electronic process was implemented for NIST staff to submit invention disclosures and approve technology transfer agreements, leading to a 20% increase in the number of invention disclosures and a 50% reduction in the average time to execute a license. The number of licenses issued to small businesses doubled, and more than two dozen new research consortia were created, including the Quantum Economic Development Consortium — which represented NIST’s first use of Other Transaction Authority under the National Quantum Initiative Act of 2018.