One of the four goals of the National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) is to “foster the transfer of new technologies into products for commercial and public benefit.” The process of technology transfer varies widely from sector to sector and even from technology to technology. There is no one-size-fits-all solution. The most widespread mechanism for technology transfer is publications and presentations of technical findings at conferences, workshops, tutorials, webinars, and the like. The importance of those activities cannot be overstated. Any forum in which new ideas and results are aired will probably stimulate other activity, and forums in which industry and academe are brought together are of particular importance. Industry participants often take away a new idea or a new solution to a problem from a presentation without its being obvious to the presenter; this is the nature of confidentiality in the industrial sphere. Another important mechanism of knowledge transfer is the migration of human resources between different positions and sectors, for example, from academe to industry. The data on such migration patterns are far from complete.
The NNI touches many aspects of the commercialization process, for example, through federally funded user facilities, the Small Business Innovation Research/Small Business Technology Transfer (SBIR/STTR) programs, and other grant processes. In addition, the NNI supports research in fields that are critical for commercialization, including novel materials and processes, metrology and characterization, instrumentation, and nanomanufacturing.
Manufacturing research is especially ripe for technology transfer and can make commercialization of results in many other fields of research possible. In its 2008 review of the NNI, the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and
Technology (PCAST) recommended substantially increasing the amount spent on nanomanufacturing research. The private sector echoed the importance of support for manufacturing research and development (R&D) in a 2011 report by Battelle and R&D Magazine.1 Although this finding was not specific to nanotechnology, the U.S. companies surveyed, according to the report, ranked support for academic R&D in manufacturing second among recommended government actions. The recommendations were to
• Provide tax credits or incentives to companies that had active manufacturing R&D programs (67 percent).
• Support academic R&D in manufacturing (46 percent).
• Increase technology-transfer support from U.S. national laboratories to industry (39 percent).
• Create manufacturing R&D programs in U.S. national laboratories (36 percent).
• Create a manufacturing “challenge” program (28 percent).
• Increase tariffs on products manufactured offshore (25 percent).
Commercialization of nanotechnology encompasses the application of nanotechnology derived from both NNI-related funded research and other sources. The NNI supports commercialization broadly—providing access to facilities and programs that help to bridge the “valley of death” from basic research, regardless of whether it was funded by the NNI, through development to practical application. Hence, a large fraction of the innovations now coming to market have roots in NNI-related funded research.
Since passage of the Patent and Trademark Law Amendments Act (also known as the Bayh-Dole Act) and the Stevenson-Wydler Technology Innovation Act of 1980, technology transfer has been a right and even a responsibility of recipients of federal research funding. Now, more than a quarter-century after those landmark pieces of legislation, numerous public and private entities are striving to promote technology transfer. Aside from its novelty, and hence the existence of little in the way of standards and regulatory certainty, nanotechnology is not unique in the challenges and obstacles to moving discoveries from the laboratory into commercial application and use.
What is different about nanotechnology is the existence of the NNI—its strong coordination among participating agencies and its ability to reach the private sector and the public at large, for example, through the National Nanotechnology
1 Battelle and R&D Magazine, “2012 Global R&D Funding Forecast,” December 2011, available at http://battelle.org/docs/default-document-library/2012_global_forecast.pdf?sfvrsn=2, accessed November 15, 2012.
Coordination Office (NNCO) and the NNI website. The NNI makes it possible to support technology transfer in ways that typical research programs cannot.
The 2003 legislation that authorized the NNI included technology transfer as an element of the program and explicitly called for a number of actions,2 including the following:
1. Program activities are to include “accelerating the deployment and application of nanotechnology research and development in the private sector, including startup companies.” (p. 117)
2. The triennially updated strategic plan is to include plans for use of federal programs, such as the SBIR and STTR programs.
3. The NNCO is to “promote access to and early application of the technologies, innovations, and expertise derived from Program activities to agency missions and systems across the Federal Government, and to United States industry, including startup companies.” (p. 117)
4. NIST is to “utilize the Manufacturing Extension Partnership program to the extent possible to ensure that the research … reaches small- and mediumsized manufacturing companies.” (p. 117)
The Secretary of Commerce or his designee, in consultation with the National Nanotechnology Coordination Office and, to the extent possible, utilizing resources at the National Technical Information Service, shall establish a clearinghouse of information related to commercialization of nanotechnology research, including information relating to activities by regional, State, and local commercial nanotechnology initiatives; transition of research, technologies, and concepts from Federal nanotechnology research and development programs into commercial and military products; best practices by government, universities and private sector laboratories transitioning technology to commercial use; examples of ways to overcome barriers and challenges to technology deployment; and use of manufacturing infrastructure and workforce. (p. 117)
National Nanotechnology Initiative-Directed Efforts
The NNI agencies and the NNCO have taken a number of steps to boost technology transfer of NNI research results. Making technology transfer a primary goal and reporting on progress in the annual budget supplement, including the amount
2 Public Law 108-153, “21st Century Nanotechnology Research and Development Act,” December 3, 2003, available at http://www.whitehouse.gov/files/documents/ostp/Issues/Nano%20Act%202003.pdf, accessed November 15, 2012.
of SBIR and STTR funds going to nanotechnology research, help to increase awareness in the participating agencies and among those who read the report. However, the general readership probably does not include many who are in the throes of starting a company or developing a nanotechnology application.
The NNCO, through the NNI website, is to some extent accomplishing the objectives of items 3 and 5 above. Up-to-date information about the various user facilities—such as the Department of Energy (DOE) Nanoscale Science Research Centers, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Center for Nanoscale Science and Technology, the National Science Foundation (NSF) National Nanotechnology Infrastructure Network, and the National Cancer Institute Nanotechnology Characterization Laboratory—is maintained by the facilities themselves, and links to the information are on the NNI website.
Multiple NNI workshops on regional, state, and local programs related to nanotechnology have helped to identify the extent of such activities, whose primary goals are, for the most part, technology transfer and workforce and economic development. The workshops provide forums for sharing information, networking, and, through the resulting reports, compilations of information on the programs and best practices. The report of the most recent such workshop also includes an appendix of technology-transfer activities and programs throughout the federal government. Regional efforts naturally have a limited geographic scope, but other commercial and noncommercial activities operate at the national or international level.3
End-product commercialization of nanotechnology is frequently implemented through companies that are distinct from the original research institutions (such as universities, government laboratories, and start-up companies). Therefore, it is important to provide mechanisms for creating awareness of R&D results, needs, and opportunities between these parties. Understanding of technology readiness level and manufacturing readiness level is critical for all parties involved. Originators of concepts often believe that they are closer to technology readiness than they are and therefore have unrealistic estimates of the value of their inventions or the challenges in commercialization. At issue is the availability of resources in prospective commercializing entities for identifying and selecting from the plethora of new potential-technology developments for further evaluation. Creating venues to showcase NNI-related funded research is critical in the commercialization chain. As in connection with several of this report’s general recommendations, there are already examples of NNI activities of this type that would help showcase NNI-
3 See, for example, National Science and Technology Council (NSTC), Regional, State, and Local Initiatives in Nanotechnology: Report of the National Nanotechnology Initiative Workshop, April 1-3, 2009, available at http://www.nano.gov/sites/default/files/pub_resource/nni_2009_rsl_workshop_report.pdf, and National Nanotechnology Initiative, “RSL 2012: Speaker Presentations and Posters,” available at http://www.nano.gov/node/835, both accessed January 30, 2013.
related funded research. Again, however, there are elements of best practices that the committee specifically recommends for consideration.
The nanotechnology-showcase activity in the annual TechConnect conference4 sponsored by a partnership of industrial sponsors is a good example of this type of exposure. The event
• Invites startup companies that have technologies of identified commercialization interest to participate.
• Arranges meetings between sponsors and start-ups for detailed assessment of specific commercialization opportunities, such as entering into joint-development partnerships and licensing agreements.
• Includes both nanotechnology and nano-enabled technologies in one large conference.
Some of the NNI agencies are to be congratulated for their efforts to hold similar types of showcase events. An example is the Navy SBIR program’s Beyond Phase II Conference.5 The committee urges that agencies consider how to engage more closely with potential commercializing entities and industries to maximize the participation at and impact of such events. Many companies that are seeking to commercialize nanotechnology have teams in “new technology evaluation,” “strategic marketing,” “acquisitions,” or “corporate ventures,” which are natural contacts for NNI agencies that want to partner in the organization of showcase events.
Other entities outside government are in a position to facilitate technology transfer, such as the Nano Business Commercialization Alliance (www.nanobca.org), which helps small, medium, and large businesses, along with investors, entrepreneurs, and inventors to network with NNI representatives. Industry-specific professional organizations, for example, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), the American Physical Society, the Materials Research Society, the American Vacuum Society, the Optical Society of America, SPIE (the international society for optical engineering), and the American Chemical Society have all contributed substantially to nanotechnology knowledge dissemination and technology transfer. SEMI (Semiconductor Equipment and Materials International) has a technology showcase (“The Extreme Electronics Tech Zone,” http://www.semiconwest.org/exhibits/techzone) at its annual Semicon West conference and trade show, at which inventors
4 Matthew Laudon, private communication, open session of the Panel on Review of the National Nanotechnology Initiative: Phase II, Irvine, Calif., May 15, 2012. See also the TechConnect World website at http://www.techconnectworld.com, accessed February 27, 2013.
and entrepreneurs have an opportunity to exhibit and present to potential clients, partners, and investors.
The above is just a sample of the non-federal-led activities that support technology transfer, especially of nanotechnology solutions. The NNI can—for example, through its website—help to connect those who have ideas and those who want to and can help to move ideas into practice.
Relevant Government Programs Focused on Commercialization
Mission-oriented agencies—such as DOE, the Department of Defense, and the National Institutes of Health—engage with medium-size and large companies in a number of ways, including contracts and grants, with the goal of technology development and technology transfer. The funding provided to companies is not tracked as part of the NNI.
The well-established SBIR and STTR programs encourage small businesses to engage in innovation research and to cooperate with universities and federal government laboratories. The programs are a vital source of funding for start-up companies that are in the early stages of product development, and SBIR and STTR activity is a measure of commercial activity in nanotechnology. On the basis of NNI-reported funding data, it is apparent that nanotechnology activities are represented in those programs, but it is difficult to track the commercialization success of SBIR, STTR, and other processes, and parsing the data to reveal NNI-related impact is not now possible.
The NSF Innovation Corps (i-Corps) program (www.nsf.gov/news/special_reports/i-corps/) is a relatively new federal program aimed at supporting technology transfer from NSF-funded research. It provides supplemental funding and entrepreneurial mentorship to NSF grantees to help to move ideas from the laboratory to a point where other funding might be obtainable. It was launched in 2011 as a 3-year pilot program, and some of the initial grantees have successfully competed for SBIR and STTR funding. This program is expected also to address multiple NNI-related activities.
As mentioned in Chapter 5, NIST is proposing an Advanced Manufacturing Technologies Consortia program (AMTech) as a means of promoting and supporting industry-led consortia to develop roadmaps for long-term research needs and to address the needs in collaboration with NIST, universities, and national laboratories.6 The program is modeled on NIST’s successful partnership with the Semiconductor Research Corporation (SRC) Nanoelectronics Research Initiative.
The National Network for Manufacturing Innovation is a proposed network of
6 For more information about the proposed AMTech program see Federal Register 76(141), July 22, 2011, available at http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2011-07-22/pdf/2011-18580.pdf, accessed September 27, 2012.
up to 15 institutes that are to serve as “regional hubs of manufacturing excellence.”7 The network is to be funded by a one-time $1 billion authorization, which was included in the 2013 President’s budget request. The recently established National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute (namii.org) will serve as a pilot for the larger program. There are expected to be synergies between the NNI array of activities and these manufacturing-specific activities.
Collection and aggregation of data to support metrics that allow us to understand the synergies and interactions between the NNI and each of those programs are recommended in Chapter 4.
Relevant Nonfederal Programs
A number of state and regional technology-transfer programs that are not nanotechnology-specific are nonetheless relevant. Some examples of nonfederal funding and mentoring programs are these:
• The Pennsylvania Ben Franklin Partnership, which has over 20 years of successfully stimulating technology transfer (www.benfranklin.org).
• Technology-transfer initiatives at the state level that affect specific technology fields in various regions. An example is the New York State Energy Research and Development Agency, which has Directed Energy and Entrepreneur in Residence programs (www.nydirectedenergy.org, http://htr.org/nyserda_entrepreneurs_in_residence_program.asp) that target energy-related technologies in cooperation with university partners, such as the University of Buffalo’s Science, Technology Transfer, and Economic Outreach program.
• Pre-seed workshops that seek to help entrepreneurs and inventors to decide whether they have a commercializable product and whether they should pursue commercialization. They may be particularly important in organizations that do not have a strong culture of start-up activity because of various impediments, such as intellectual property (IP) policy limitations, tenure-track requirements, or a lack of funding, mentoring, or incubator access. For example, the State University of New York has funded preseed workshops of 2½ days to over 2 weeks in which each new business is partnered with local experienced IP, legal, business, financial, and other professionals in a team; addresses key business issues one by one; and then presents a pitch to a panel of investors. Such a process can serve as a practi-
7 National Institute of Standards and Technology, “President Proposes National Network for Manufacturing Innovation,” News Release, March 9, 2012, available at http://www.nist.gov/public_affairs/releases/manufacturing-030912.cfm, accessed September 27, 2012.
cal prescreening tool (according to Neworks LLC, www.neworks.biz, about 50 percent of participants decide not to go ahead), and successful participants can move on to company formation, i-Corps, and other activities.
The strong and successful linkage in the United States between research and economic development suggests that international R&D trends may indicate economic competiveness. Battelle and R&D Magazine collaborated on the 2012 Global R&D Funding Forecast,8 which reports that Asian countries increased their share of the global researcher pool from 16 to 31 percent from 2003 to 2007. The report forecasts mixed trends for 2012 U.S. R&D spending: federal, down 1.6 percent to $125.7 billion; industrial, up 3.8 percent to $279.7 billion; and university, up 2.85 percent to $12.3 billion. Although U.S. industrial R&D spending is predicted to increase, the U.S. share of global R&D spending is forecast to continue to decline, from 32.8 percent in 2010 and 32.0 percent in 2011 to 31.1 percent in 2012. Its share is being lost primarily to Asia: 34.3 percent in 2010, 35.5 percent in 2011, and 36.7 percent in 2012.
The divergent trends in U.S. R&D investment according to sector have a number of implications. In contrast with federal and university spending, U.S. industrial R&D spending is overwhelmingly for “development” rather than “research,” which relies on foundational research by the federal and university sectors. Thus, the impact of shrinking federal support for basic research may not be felt for many years.
Finding: In an era of constrained federal budgets, to support U.S. competitiveness agencies will be faced with a need to set priorities for R&D investments and even greater pressure to coordinate in fields, such as nanotechnology, in which advances affect multiple agency missions.
The recent report “Global Funding of Nanotechnologies and Its Impact”9 continues to demonstrate the U.S. lead in global nanotechnology transfer. However, it also demonstrates the qualitative nature of assessments based on economic models (developed for non-nanotechnology).
8 Battelle and R&D Magazine, “2012 Global R&D Funding Forecast,” December 2011, available at http://battelle.org/docs/default-document-library/2012_global_forecast.pdf?sfvrsn=2, accessed November 15, 2012.
9 Cientifica, Ltd., “Global Funding of Nanotechnologies and Its Impact,” July 2011, available at http://cientifica.com/wp-content/uploads/downloads/2011/07/Global-Nanotechnology-Funding-Report-2011.pdf.
Trends in R&D spending by other nations constitute only one potential indicator of future economic competitiveness. A report by PCAST10 compared domestic and foreign practices in addition to R&D investment that can enhance the environment for a high-technology economic sector, including nanotechnology-enabled industries. The report focused on the United States, China, Taiwan, and Singapore and highlighted differences in tax benefits, subsidy programs, currency valuation, science-based industrial parks, and worker training. The PCAST study shows that policy makers need to consider multiple “points of friction” and controls within their reach for smoothing the path from research to commercialization.
Finding: Given the novelty of nanotechnology, international best practices in nurturing the business environment for nanotechnology commercialization and related trends in commercialization activity are subject to change.
Recommendation 6-1: The NSET Subcommittee should periodically review the changing status of the competitive environment for nanotechnology-enabled industry in the United States relative to that of other nations.
Role of National Nanotechnology Initiative User Facilities in Commercialization
User facilities that support research at the nanoscale are operated by NIST, DOE laboratories, and universities that host NSF-funded centers. They allow access to state-of-the-art equipment, expertise, and, in the case of university NSF centers, potential candidates for recruitment. They have a regional, as well as a national, function and constitute a concrete achievement of the NNI, establishing an infrastructure that actively supports commercialization.
One of the charges given to the committee for this triennial review was the assessment of the ability of the NNI “to maximize the opportunities to transfer selected technologies to the private sector.” As discussed in the committee’s interim report, the federal agencies that participate in the NNI do not have consistent metrics for measuring the effectiveness of technology transfer. Many of the potential metrics can be obtained through effective data mining—for example, data on SBIR grants, patents, licenses related to federal research grants, and the diffusion of knowledge by publications, students moving into industry, and standards development. However, they may not be fully appropriate for understanding actual processes related to creating commercialization paths. Furthermore, the complexity of
10 PCAST, Sustaining the Nation’s Innovation Ecosystems, Information Technology Manufacturing and Competitiveness, January 2004, available at http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/microsites/ostp/pcast-04-itreport.pdf, accessed November 15, 2012.
collecting metrics is related to the NNI focus on the translation process as opposed to “the development and commercialization of technology for the marketplace”11 that is the focus of industry.
In lieu of quantitative metrics, the committee received useful anecdotal input from federal agencies, national laboratories, industry, professional societies, and trade associations on the translation process. The information gathered was used in developing the recommendations related to identifying best practices in IP management and expanding the scope of the NNI website to aid those interested in technology transfer and commercialization.
Standards are important to commerce and innovation, aiding suppliers and customers in the specification and characterization of products. Nanotechnology standards-development bodies include the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) Technical Committee (TC) 229, International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) TC 113, ASTM International (formerly American Society for Testing and Materials) Committee E56, and IEEE. These organizations are open and involve industry and government participants, and the NNI has been extremely active. Until his retirement, Clayton Teague, former director of NNCO, coordinated the national effort and was also the convener for the U.S. American National Standards Institute (ANSI) Accredited Technical Advisory Group to ISO TC 229. In addition, ASTM Committee E56 is led by NIST, the U.S. ANSI-Accredited Technical Advisory Group to ISO TC 229 Working groups on metrology and on environmental, health, and safety (EHS) are led by NIST and the National Institute on Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), respectively, and the ISO TC 229 Working Group on EHS is led by NIST. EHS guidance developed by NIOSH has recently been adopted in an ISO TC 229 technical report. The U.S. Department of Agriculture is heavily involved in standards development for cellulosic nanomaterials through the Technical Association of the Pulp and Paper Industry.
In the U.S. government, standards are a primary activity of NIST, and the agency is heavily involved in creating evermore accurate standards for the fundamental/primary measures of length, time, etc., at the nanoscale and beyond.
The era of commerce in products enabled by nanotechnology has created new technical challenges with respect to metrology at the nanoscale, a regime in which it can be difficult to distinguish the measuring instrument from the object being measured and fundamental work is needed. For example, NIST has developed
11 W.H. Schacht, Specialist in Science and Technology Policy, Congressional Research Service, “Technology Transfer: Use of Federally Funded Research and Development,” 7-5700, www.crs.gov RL33527, December 3, 2012.
standard methods for determining electrical resistance of individual nanowires and their contacts to other structures with an electronic device.12 Many more metrology challenges stand in the way of commercial use of nanotechnology. Thus, the committee encourages NIST and other NNI participating agencies to work with industry to identify metrology challenges and barriers and to engage the broader research community to focus on the creation of nanocharacterization tools and standards that address these barriers.
In addition to standards in physical measurement and characterization methods, nanotechnology commercialization needs international standards for risk management. Some of them will be voluntary standards, such as the ISO 9000 and 14000 series.
Many important nanotechnology risk management standards will be related to EHS. For example, a recent effort led by the International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI) is looking at the rates of release of nanoparticles from composite materials and correlation to actual exposure and uptake in biological and environmental systems.13 Such data are needed along with toxicity information in order to make appropriate standards and regulations. The committee encourages the NNI agencies, as appropriate, to continue and extend cooperative efforts with other nations in EHS-related standards setting. In order to be practical, such standards for nanotechnology need to address both technical effectiveness and economic viability.14
Recommendation 6-2: Standards development is critical for commercialization, use, and sound regulation of nanotechnology. The NNCO and NIST have played leading roles in this activity. NNI agencies should continue their active participation in standards development organizations and in the development of metrology and characterization tools, standard reference materials, terminology, and nomenclature.
It is critical that the NNI seek to target those aiming to bring new nanotechnologies or nanotechnology-enabled products to market. That population has specific needs, such as dealing with regulatory bodies and finding investors.
12 C.A. Richter et al., “Metrology for the electrical characterization of semiconductor nanowires,” IEEE Transactions on Electron Devices 55(11), 2008.
13 See more about ILSI NanoRelease project at International Life Sciences Institute, “NanoRelease Consumer Products—News and Updates,” available at http://www.ilsi.org/ResearchFoundation/RSIA/Pages/NanoRelease1.aspx, accessed April 15, 2013.
14 V. Murashov and J. Howard, “The U.S. must help set international standards for nanotechnology,” Nature Nanotechnology 3:635-636, 2008.
The World Wide Web is an important communication medium for the NNCO. However, despite the wealth of information that is available in its reports and on its website, a frequent complaint is that small businesses in particular are not aware of or cannot readily find relevant information.
The nano.gov website could be improved by making it easier to access material that addresses the needs of those involved in technology transfer and commercialization. For example, providing access to the database called for earlier in this report—including project titles, principal investigator information, patents, and publications—would help interested parties to connect with each other. If project, researcher, and center-of-excellence information were more readily accessible, there might be more opportunities for industry to seek out and develop collaborative relationships with other research centers.
Information about the use and regulation of nanomaterials could be made more readily available by, for example, creating prominent links to NIOSH websites that have recent safe practices guidelines. The Nanotechnology Environmental and Health Implications working group could develop and post a regulatory roadmap with an overview of procedures and regulatory requirements for new products. To avoid liability, appropriate language would direct website users to confer with appropriate agencies or legal sources.
Recommendation 6-3: The NNCO should expand the scope of its website and reorganize it to focus on information aimed specifically at aiding and guiding those who are interested in technology transfer and commercialization.
Potential models for accelerating promising research to the point of commercialization are of broad interest. For example, the June 2011 PCAST Report to the President on Ensuring American Leadership in Advanced Manufacturing examined a wide range of international models for government investments in promoting manufacturing and economic growth and found that
even as U.S. manufacturing leadership is waning, other nations are investing heavily in growing and revitalizing their manufacturing sectors and are crafting policies to attract and retain production facilities and multinational companies within their borders. Such policies include partnerships, physical structures such as science parks or technology clusters, tax and regulatory incentives, and concentrated investment in commercialization of promising technologies. Some of these policies amount to industrial policy— making clear bets on specific firms and industries, but others support pre-competitive activities that would be regarded as within the scope of appropriate government intervention in the U.S.
However, there are effective public-private partnership models that are compatible with U.S. practice and constitute obvious pathways for the NNI agencies to foster commercialization of a selected portion of the NNI nanotechnology research portfolio. In particular, models that seem promising for the NNI to exploit include the following:
• SRC Consortium model—academe supported by a consortium of companies to perform precompetitive research of mutual benefit to all industrial partners.
• DOE Innovation Hub model—integrated research centers that combine basic and applied research with engineering to accelerate scientific discovery in critical energy issues.
• Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft model—applied-research laboratories of direct utility to private and public enterprise and of wide benefit to society.
Each of those models provides a means for government agencies to work closely with companies toward the common goal of commercializing research funded solely by the government or jointly with industry. They differ in details of the handling of research funding, guidance, technology transfer, and so on, but all have worthwhile best practices.
The SRC Consortium Model
A particularly effective form of partnership is a consortium that shares the cost and risk of R&D among its members. The primary members of such consortia are companies within an industry that, although they are normally competitors, are able to build consensus on a set of precompetitive R&D goals. In some cases, the companies divide most of the R&D tasks among themselves and share the results; the U.S. Council for Automotive Research is an example of this type.15 In other cases, the companies may use a central R&D facility as the research provider, such as HRL Laboratories (formerly Hughes Research Laboratories); such a central facility may be partly staffed by “assignees” from the member companies, as in the case of SEMATECH. SEMATECH is an example of a public-private partnership; it received half of its funding from a Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) contract during its first decade of operation and receives matching funds from the state of New York today. SEMATECH is also an example of an R&D consortium in the nanotechnology domain.
SRC is a pioneering nanotechnology R&D consortium that has sponsored university research since 1982. It consists of several subconsortia that serve the integrated-circuit and related industries. Most of them also include public-private partnerships, of which two, the Semiconductor Technology Advanced Research Network (STARnet)16 and the Nanoelectronics Research Initiative (NRI),17 are specifically addressing frontiers in nanotechnology in partnership with DARPA and with NIST and NSF, respectively. The NRI partnership with NSF is connected to the NNI signature initiative Nanoelectronics for 2020 and Beyond and is implemented through joint sponsorship of specific projects added to some of the NSF nanoscale interdisciplinary research teams. The committee believes that this type of partnership is one of many examples of best practices in R&D consortia that should be encouraged in multiple nanotechnology (and other) commercial sectors.
A more detailed look at the NRI example reveals specific best practices that could be further leveraged by NNI agencies in promoting the commercialization of nanotechnology. The main value of an NRI-style consortium in this regard is that its main purpose is indeed to foster commercialization of research results from the providers (universities in this case) through the consortium members (industry). A related purpose is to provide a supply of relevantly educated graduate students for recruitment by the members. Hiring students who have completed thesis research on projects of interest to the members is one of the best forms of technology transfer from university research to industry. NRI best practices for industrial consortia sponsoring university research can be summarized as follows:
• Consortium members build consensus on the scope of precompetitive R&D that will be funded.
• The consortium issues requests for proposals (RFPs) from the university research community on selected topics. In the case of NRI, the RFPs are developed, announced, and evaluated in cooperation with the NNI-partner agencies as appropriate.
• Project results are presented and industrial feedback on the progress is given at annual reviews open to all consortium members and university researchers under contract.
• Technologies are benchmarked to allow researchers to measure and compare progress toward key metrics of performance.
16 See SRC, “Semiconductor Technology Advanced Research Network,” available at http://www.src.org/program/starnet/, accessed April 15, 2013; STARnet is the follow-on program to the Focus Center Research Program, see SRC, “Focus Center Research Program (Legacy),” available at http://www.src.org/program/fcrp/, accessed April 15, 2013.
• In addition to their dues, the consortium members contribute scientists and engineers as “industrial assignees” who guide and participate in the university research on a full-time basis. To ensure complete coverage of timely guidance on projects, the consortium also establishes “industrial advisory boards” of part-time participants.
• If patents are created as part of the research, the universities own the patents, even if filing and maintenance are funded by the consortium; but in all cases, the consortium members receive royalty-free licenses to the IP.
• The consortium maintains a searchable database of research project summaries, periodic research reports, publications, and student résumés.
• The consortium sponsors an annual technical conference and job fair (“TECHCON”) at which students present research results.
• The consortium organizes monthly webinars that provide tutorials and updates on research topics.
Those elements combine to ensure rapid progress in technology transfer. They lead to higher value for industry partners, more informed research, and enhanced education of students; most important, they increase national benefit. In addition, SRC has internal processes to measure the relevance of research to its members and its impact on the broader semiconductor community, to track students and connect them with industry opportunities (internships and employment), and to follow evolution of research from the university to industry.
Finding: The user facility infrastructure is outstanding, and government user facilities have a wide array of IP policies. However, although some are user-friendly, some make use difficult, especially for businesses. Bayh-Dole and Stephenson-Wydler requirements are interpreted differently, and complications can occur at the state level and where contractors manage government-owned laboratories. Universities also have widely differing Bayh-Dole interpretations and policies.
The committee urges that templates for cooperative R&D agreements (CRADAs) and other cooperative mechanisms should be developed and should be practical and equitable so that NNI projects are not “orphaned” because of IP conflicts. For precompetitive IP, the SRC consortium model (with a perpetual nonexclusive royalty-free license and university ownership of the IP) may offer some guidelines for best practices.18
18 For more information, see N. Logar, L.D. Anadon, and V. Narayanamurti, “The Semiconductor Research Corporation as a Model for Cooperative Private (and Public) Partnerships,” Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. Private communication, submitted for publication to Research Policy.
There is evidence that that model has been used extensively and successfully by SRC. However, if the technology is at the competitive stage, a company typically pays the university to do the work and the company owns the IP or an exclusive license. Another template version should address national-laboratory user facilities, and a draft CRADA template should be used as appropriate. Newer user facilities, such as the NIST NanoFab and DOE nanotechnology centers with a high ratio of external to internal users, may yield important insights into how to make the template user-friendly while meeting laboratory needs.
DOE Innovation Hub Model
Since 2010, DOE has established five energy innovation hubs. Each hub brings leading scientists from DOE national laboratories, universities, and companies together to collaborate on specific critical energy challenges. Through a competitive process, proposals are solicited and evaluated for hubs; the funding for each hub is about $125 million over 5 years. The Manhattan Project and AT&T Bell Labs are the two models on which the DOE energy innovation hubs are based, specifically to “develop innovation through a unique approach, where scientists and engineers from many disciplines work together to overcome the scientific barriers of development. In this environment, they can accomplish greater feats more quickly than they would separately.”19
The hubs differ from the Fraunhofer institutes in having their total funding competitively awarded by the federal government over a medium term rather than supported mostly by a succession of overlapping contracts on a single theme. It remains to be seen whether the energy hub model, like the Fraunhofer and SRC models, will provide successful pathways to commercialization. Box 6.1 briefly describes the energy-efficient buildings hub.
The Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft20 was founded in 1949 and constitutes a German public-private partnership that develops technologic innovations and novel systems solutions that reinforce the competitive strength of the German and European economy. The business model is as follows: “The Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft’s research work is oriented toward concrete applications and results. Pure basic research, as practiced at universities, is funded to almost 100 percent by public grants. Indus-
19 U.S. Department of Energy, “Energy Efficient Buildings Hub,” August 1, 2010, available at http://energy.gov/articles/energy-efficient-buildings-hub, accessed December 19, 2012.
20 More information about the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft business model is available at http://www.fraunhofer.de/en/about-fraunhofer/business-model.html, accessed November 15, 2012.
The Energy-Efficient Buildings Hub
The energy-efficient buildings hub consists of performers from research universities, DOE laboratories, industrial firms, economic development agencies, and community and technical colleges funded by DOE, the Economic Development Administration, NIST, the Small Business Administration, and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. The hub is focused on performing research needed to integrate disparate technologies in a building to optimize energy performance; researching and developing the technologies, models, and analytic tools needed to do this better (where technical solutions are not available or are not optimized); demonstrating the results in buildings, measuring results, and cycling back to continue to optimize the whole building approach; and scaling solutions that involve cost considerations, job training, marketing, policies, and so on. The hub’s efforts span technology readiness levels from discovery through applied research to demonstration.
trial R&D, up to prototype level, is largely financed by private enterprise. The Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft receives funding both from the public sector (approximately 30 percent) and through contract research earnings (roughly 70 percent).”21 The total annual research budget is about 1.65 billion Euros, and about 18,000 people are directly employed in the R&D efforts. The 60 Fraunhofer institutes perform both contract research up to commercialization and application-focused basic research. As part of its operation, the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft encourages the formation of start-up companies as offshoots of the institutes and supports cooperative ventures between spin-off companies and Fraunhofer institutes by a variety of means. In addition to the Fraunhofer institutes in Germany, the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft has established seven Fraunhofer centers in the United States (“Fraunhofer U.S.”) to partner with the German institutes in moving innovative concepts to commercialization.
The Fraunhofer model is distinguished primarily by having a substantial portion of its budget from public funds despite its being focused almost entirely on promoting the economy through direct involvement and even creation of companies. This model has been consistently supported since 1973. It appears to have been an inspiration for the U.S. National Network for Manufacturing Innovation. It is not an NNI signature initiative but will probably have centers devoted to nanomanufacturing. NIST has established a website (manufacturing.gov) for it.
21 Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft, “Fraunhofer Business Model,” available at http://www.fraunhofer.de/en/about-fraunhofer/business-model.html, accessed December 18, 2012.
Each of the above models, as well as the current infrastructure of user facilities, networks, centers, etc., requires mechanisms by which IP rights are managed and made available in support of technology transfer. Universities and government user facilities have a wide range of IP policies, some of which are user-friendly and some of which pose difficulties, especially for businesses. Bayh-Dole and Stephenson-Wydler requirements are interpreted differently, and in addition, complications can occur at the state level and when contractors manage government-owned laboratories.
The committee urges that templates for CRADAs and other cooperative mechanisms be developed that are practical and equitable so that NNI projects are not “orphaned” due to IP conflicts. For precompetitive IP, the SRC consortium model (perpetual nonexclusive royalty-free license—university owns the IP) may offer some guidelines for best practices.22 There is evidence that this model has been used extensively and successfully by SRC.
If a technology is at the competitive stage, a company normally pays a university to do the work and the company owns the IP or an exclusive license. Another template should address national laboratory user facilities, and a draft CRADA template should be used as appropriate. Newer user facilities, such as the NIST NanoFab and DOE Nanoscale Science Research Centers, which have a high ratio of external to internal users, may have useful insights on how to make the template user friendly yet meet laboratory needs.
Recommendation (6-4): Each NNI agency should identify best practices in intellectual property management and transfer those practices that were developed by it or by other institutions and then share among all agencies the recommended templates and guidelines for such best practices.
22 For more information, see N. Logar, L.D. Anadon, and V. Narayanamurti, “The Semiconductor Research Corporation as a Model for Cooperative Private (and Public) Partnerships,” Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. Private communication, submitted for publication to Research Policy.