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NIST releases tech transfer recommendations

April 25, 2019
By: Mark Skinner

Describing the 125+ page document outlining the administration’s thoughts regarding the movement of federal R&D into market use as a “discussion guide, not a policy document,”  Under Secretary of Commerce for Standards and Technology and NIST Director Walter Copan announced the report’s release April 24 during the early minutes of the national convening of one of the communities most directly affected by any changes likely to result from the document: the technology licensing practitioners and offices which make up the Federal Laboratories Consortium for Technology Transfer (FLC). 

While there are no funding proposals contained within the paper, there are many specific recommendations and examples of policy leading language included in the culminating report from the multi-staged information-gathering phase of the high-profile “Return on Investment” initiative jointly led by NIST and the White House Office of Science & Technology Policy (OSTP). 

Another group that is likely to join the FLC in feeling direct impact if the paper guides legislative and regulatory changes as the administration desires, includes the private companies and U.S. manufacturers commercializing the results of the annual $150 billion of federally funded R&D. This group should like much of what they see in the final green paper as the series of findings and recommendations enumerated within it are intended to clarify and streamline many aspects of the federal and university tech transfer processes.

In addition to streamlining for efficiency and clarifying for impact, the guidance includes 15 findings grouped across strategies intended to: 

  • Reduce unnecessary restrictions or barriers for moving federally funded R&D to market and use;
  • Create new opportunities for private sector engagement of federal technologies, facilities and lab personnel;
  • Reduce public confusion and inconsistent interpretations of existing tech transfer law and regulations by and across agencies; and,
  • Improve the government’s future capacity to promulgate rules and changes to intramural R&D, consistent with existing authority within the Bayh-Dole Act governing extramural federal research investments.

Already capturing media and trade group attention is the discussion within the paper for government-use licensing and government “march in” rights, the latter being a right the government retains for all licensed technologies but has never exercised in the 39-year history of the Stevenson-Wydler and Bayh-Dole acts governing federal intramural and extramural tech transfer, respectively.

Other topics addressed in the green paper are less controversial and more likely to be addressed through legislative proposals and suggested rule changes to be advanced by the administration in the coming months. Among those recommendations that may be of particular interest to the Digest community are: 

  • Granting agencies the authority to extend information protection in Cooperative Research and Development Agreements (CRADAs) beyond five years;
  • Expanding authority allowing all federal agencies greater flexibility and speed in executing newer partnerships agreement tools such as the Department of Energy’s Agreements for Commercializing Technology and to enable translational R&D collaboration;
  • Allowing all federal agencies to establish nonprofit foundations to accept private funds to advance technology commercialization; 
  • Expanding real property outleasing authority to all federal agencies, which could permit locating more commercialization centers, incubators and research parks within greater proximity to federal research installations;
  • Enabling the use of awarded federal extramural R&D funds to be used for intellectual property protection;
  • Implementing technology entrepreneurship programs within federal R&D agencies; and,
  • Allowing federal scientists and technologists to take sabbaticals or paid/unpaid leave for technology commercialization purposes for terms up to three years.

The full document is available for download at:  https://www.nist.gov/tpo/return-investment-roi-initiative/green-paper

nist, tech transfer