Unlocking the Potential for
Successful Technology Transfer
Federally funded R&D holds untapped technologies that offer compelling business opportunities
Technology Transfer is defined as “the process of transferring technology from its origination to
a wider distribution among more people
and places.” Various communities such
as business, academia and government
are routinely involved in these initiatives
including across international borders,
both formally and informally.
The primary desire is to share
expertise, knowledge, technologies,
methodologies, facilities, and capabilities
among governments or universities and
other institutions to ensure that scientific
and technological developments are
accessible to users who can then pursue
development, robustification, design
for manufacturability and exploit the
technology into new products, processes,
applications, materials or services. There
are several types of returns. First, for the
stakeholder’s investment in the research
itself. Second, for creation of new job
opportunities. Lastly, for a new product or
service that is likely to impact the health
and viability on a global scale.
The U.S. government invests some
$135B each year to advance science
and technology (S&T) as the basis for
breakthrough knowledge development
and new innovations, of which around
20 to 30 percent is invested in successful
Technology Transfer. The federal S&T
budget is a sizeable sum. In fact, the
federal laboratory ecosystem provides
a home to several hundred thousand
scientists and engineers working to solve
some of the most significant scientific
challenges on a national and global scale.
The national laboratories alone annually
produce 11,000 peer reviewed publications
and over 1,700 reported inventions
and 6,000 active technology license
agreements. However, the primary mission
of the federal laboratory ecosystem is
to perform basic research for scientific
discovery to, support national defense and
other missions, and to perform research
and development in spaces where industry
is not yet ready to lead.
Unlike both public and private
commercial companies, the federal
laboratories perform R&D with neither
specific products nor services directly in
mind. Most work in the public interest,
and are often trusted advisors of the
government. They understand the mission
space, the requirements and the gaps that
need to be closed to improve the safety and
security of the nation.
The primary customers of the output
from federal laboratory research and
development efforts are often the federal
agencies directly funding the work, since
commercial transfer brings private funds
to bear to bring products to market with
government funded intellectual property
inside. It is also an expectation as part of
the charter of federal laboratories in 1986
that successful commercial outcomes are
resultant benefits of the high-performance
What are the perceived barriers of
There are several constructs that impact
success of Technology Transfer, and not
least the uniqueness of the Intellectual
Property (IP) involved, for example:
• Is it leading-edge and breakthrough?
• Is it disruptive?
• Is it easily “copied”?
• Are there competing technologies?
• Is there a work-around?
All these factors contribute to the
ultimate value positioning opportunity
R&D 100 Conference
Technology Transfer Forum
A special highlight of the third annual 2017
R&D 100 Conference—held Nov. 16 and 17,
2017 at the Walt Disney World Swan Resort in
Orlando, Florida—was the R&D Technology
Transfer Forum (TTF): Unlocking the
Potential,” a session that explored the
obstacles and barriers encountered
with transferring technologies from the
government to the private sector.
The federal science and technology budget
is sizeable—some $135B of public funds are
invested annually to improve security, create
jobs, develop higher standards of living,
and unlock new discoveries that serve as
a foundation for future innovations. The
majority of the national investment in science
and technology today is by the private sector.
These circumstances present an opportunity
to leverage successes in transferring
technologies from the government to the private
The forum discussed these opportunities
and approaches to overcoming the obstacles
and barriers encountered with such technology
The forum was moderated by Vicki A.
Barbur, PhD, Technology Transfer Office, the
MI TRE Corporation, who was also a presenter.
The forum also included commentaries by
Daniel Lockney, Technology Transfer Program
Executive at NASA Headquarters; Michael J.
Paulus, PhD, Oak Ridge National Laboratory
Partnerships Directorate; Nick Dougherty,
Program Director for PULSE@MassChallenge;
and Ben Gibson, Sr., Owner, Solution
Architect, SyrRoc Systems.
A selection of presentations from the
R&D 100 Conference are available here:
By Vicki A. Barbur, PhD, The MITRE Corporation