ITRI’s and DoE’s models, he noted that the former is based on a single-purpose mission of technology development and commercialization with relationships, while the main mission of the DoE labs is “national security broadly writ”; for ITRI, therefore, technology transfer is a dedicated mission, whereas for DoE it is a supplementary mission.
The DoE labs receive about ten times as much annual funding as ITRI, or $6 billion versus $600 million. But industrial contributions account for only about $60 million of the DoE labs’ funding, or 1 percent, while around $200 million, or one-third, of ITRI’s funding comes from industry. The latter is “a very powerful statement of support consistent with their mission,” Dr. VanDevender said.
The DoE labs produce around 600 patents per year, half as many as ITRI’s 1,200; this translates to 0.1 patent per $1 million for the DoE model and two patents per $1 million for the ITRI model. However, the difference in patents per industry dollar is far narrower—about 10 patents per $1 million from industry for DoE versus six patents per $1 million from industry for ITRI—because industry is leveraging the huge U.S. investment in national security in the DoE model. However, these two rates are “very comparable,” said Dr. VanDevender, “given the uncertainty in the value of those patents, [and] particularly since many more companies are spun off from ITRI than from DoE labs.” Both models have their strengths and both were valuable, he concluded, suggesting that the comparison raised a question worth considering at the next stage of policy making: “whether or not [the United States] should experiment with a single-mission lab for industrial competitiveness.”
In closing, Dr. VanDevender affirmed that technology partnerships add significantly to the innovation capabilities of the DoE and NNSA labs, as well as to the innovation capabilities of their industrial partners. They expand the R&D capacity for both industry and the labs and contribute to the fulfillment of DoE’s mission and goals while providing competitive advantage to those industry partners that have long-term relationships with the laboratories. Although the effect is very small in percentage terms, the partnerships continue to provide important results for the government’s national security mission (even during very constrained federal budgets) and differentiating benefits for the partnering corporation. Nevertheless, he emphasized that partnership activities have “really plateaued under the current policies and priorities; a wiser and bolder approach is needed to move partnerships to the next level of effectiveness and efficiency.”