Technology Transfer and Collaboration at Federal Labs
By law, each federal agency involved in research is required to have an Office of Research and Technology Applications, abbreviated ORTA. This office is intended to serve as an intermediary between the Laboratory and those outside such as universities, private companies and nonprofit entrepreneurial support agencies.
Some of the tools available for “outsiders” to collaborate with federal Labs are summarized below:
Small Business Innovation Research awards (SBIR) This is a competitive program designed to encourage the commercialization of products and processes developed by small businesses through grants of federal funds.
Small Business Technology Transfer program (STTR) is similar to SBIR except it only applied to the departments of Defense, Energy, Health and Human Services, NASA and the National Science Foundation and award applicants are partnerships of small businesses and universities.
Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) These agreements are used when a Lab and a private company share mutual research interests. They spell out the details of the relationship, cost sharing, and protection of the resulting discoveries or products.
Intellectual Property (IP) The labs can patent technology developed by their scientists and license inventions to companies that will commercialize them. If the lab collaborates with an outside partner on an invention, intellectual property issues are typically negotiated and formalized in advance.
Personnel Exchanges It is possible for Laboratory scientists to be deployed on a short term basis to private sector companies and universities, or for company employees and university personnel to be deployed to a Lab to enhance the knowledge, expertise and research of both parties. This is discretionary with each Lab and paid for by the outside party.
Technical Assistance (Work for Others) agreements allows a Laboratory to advise US companies or other researchers on problems for which the Lab has special expertise or equipment. There may be a fee and a formal agreement if the assistance requires more than an incidental amount of time.
Use of Facilities Outside entities such as universities, technology incubators, private companies and individual inventors may be able to use scientific equipment, specialized rooms, testing centers or other unique experimental property of the Labs. This use is at the discretion of the Lab with costs paid by the user.