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NIST recommends improvements for federal tech transfer, seeks comments

December 13, 2018
By: Jason Rittenberg

The National Institute of Standards and Technology has released a paper making recommendations to improve federal technology transfer. Recommendations are organized around five topics: regulation and administration, private-sector engagement, R&D workforce, tech transfer tools, and metrics and benchmarks. These recommendations — and the responses they generate — are expected to lead to regulatory and legislative proposals over the course of the next two years.

The Draft Green Paper is part of the Return on Investment Initiative, a project managed by NIST and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy to improve the returns on federal R&D investments. The initiative itself is part of the President’s Management Agenda. The paper was produced in part based on feedback from the request for information conducted earlier this year on Stevenson-Wydler and other tech transfer policies.

A summary of NIST’s recommended actions is reproduced below. More details on the intended actions, including what regulatory or legislative changes may be required to implement the solutions, are provided in the paper.

Some of the recommended actions would facilitate lab-corporate collaborations, and may also create new opportunities for tech-based economic development organizations to work with federal agencies and labs:

  • Expanding the use of Agreements to Commercialize Technologies, a Department of Energy pilot that is sometimes easier to implement than CRADAs;
  • Establishing more nonprofit foundations to facilitate tech transfer from federal R&D agencies;
  • Continuing support for SBIR/STTR;
  • Increasing agencies’ use of entrepreneurship programs, including I-Corps, for both extramural and intramural training;
  • Allowing entrepreneurial leave for federal R&D staff; and,
  • Developing a portal for easier identification of federal R&D assets.

The current green paper is considered a draft, and NIST and OSTP are open to further comments on the future scope of the ROI Initiative. In addition to refining the suggestions in the paper, TBED practitioners may wish to encourage future recommendations to recognize more federal programs that support tech transfer and commercialization (particularly Regional Innovation Strategies) and encourage federal labs to partner with regional TBED organizations that already leverage commercialization and entrepreneurship services.

NIST is formally accepting comments on the paper through Jan. 9, 2019. Thoughts can be submitted to roi@nist.gov. SSTI members interested in the process are also encouraged to contact SSTI Policy and Development Director Jason Rittenberg (614.901.1690 | rittenberg@ssti.org).

Return on Investment Initiative – Summary of Intended Actions

Strategy 1: Identify regulatory impediments and administrative improvements in Federal technology transfer policies and practices

  • Government Use License: Define the scope of the “government use license”
  • March-In Rights: Define the circumstances under which the government may exercise march-in rights to license further development of an invention to achieve practical application
  • Preference for U.S. Manufacturing: Protect and strengthen U.S. manufacturing; streamline waiver process in accordance with statute
  • Software Copyright: Establish copyright for software products of Federal Government R&D
  • Trade Secrets: Expand authority to protect trade secrets
  • Strengthen Technology Transfer at Federal Laboratories: Streamline Federal Laboratory technology transfer policies and practices
  • Presumption of Government Rights to Employee Inventions: Provide for a present assignment of invention rights and streamline rights determination processes

Strategy 2: Increase engagement with private sector technology development experts and investors

  • Streamline Partnership Mechanisms: Establish consistency in legislative interpretation and use of best practices
  • New/Expanded Partnership Mechanisms: Authorize new and expanded mechanisms to establish partnership agreements and nonprofit foundations
  • Technology Maturation Funding: Allow limited use of R&D funding awards for intellectual property protection; work with Small Business Administration for Small Business Innovation Research

Strategy 3: Build a more entrepreneurial R&D workforce

  • Technology Entrepreneurship Programs: Establish technology entrepreneurship programs at Federal R&D agencies government-wide
  • Managing Conflicts of Interest: Implement government-wide requirements to better manage conflicts of interest to promote entrepreneurship

Strategy 4: Support innovative tools and services for technology transfer

  • Federal IP Data Reporting System(s): Establish a modern platform for reporting data on intellectual property resulting from Federal R&D
  • Access to Federal R&D Assets: Establish a federated data portal that is easy for the public to access, use, and analyze

Strategy 5: Improve understanding of global science and technology trends and benchmarks

  • Benchmarking and Metrics: Establish metrics to better capture, assess, and improve Federal R&D outcomes, impacts, and operational processes


nist, policy recommendations, tech transfer