of Digital Products
Committee on Advancing Commercialization
from the Federal Laboratories
Board on Science, Technology, and Economic Policy
Policy and Global Affairs
A Consensus Study Report of
THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES PRESS
THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES PRESS 500 Fifth Street, NW Washington, DC 20001
This activity was supported by a contract between the National Academy of Sciences and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (SB134117CQ0017/1333ND18FNB400154). Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication do not necessarily reflect the views of any organization or agency that provided support for the project.
International Standard Book Number-13: 978-0-309-68594-8
International Standard Book Number-10: 0-309-68594-X
Digital Object Identifier: https://doi.org/10.17226/26006
Additional copies of this publication are available from the National Academies Press, 500 Fifth Street, NW, Keck 360, Washington, DC 20001; (800) 624-6242 or (202) 334-3313; http://www.nap.edu.
Copyright 2021 by the National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Printed in the United States of America
Suggested citation: National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2021. Advancing Commercialization of Digital Products from Federal Laboratories. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. https://doi.org/10.17226/26006.
The National Academy of Sciences was established in 1863 by an Act of Congress, signed by President Lincoln, as a private, nongovernmental institution to advise the nation on issues related to science and technology. Members are elected by their peers for outstanding contributions to research. Dr. Marcia McNutt is president.
The National Academy of Engineering was established in 1964 under the charter of the National Academy of Sciences to bring the practices of engineering to advising the nation. Members are elected by their peers for extraordinary contributions to engineering. Dr. John L. Anderson is president.
The National Academy of Medicine (formerly the Institute of Medicine) was established in 1970 under the charter of the National Academy of Sciences to advise the nation on medical and health issues. Members are elected by their peers for distinguished contributions to medicine and health. Dr. Victor J. Dzau is president.
The three Academies work together as the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine to provide independent, objective analysis and advice to the nation and conduct other activities to solve complex problems and inform public policy decisions. The National Academies also encourage education and research, recognize outstanding contributions to knowledge, and increase public understanding in matters of science, engineering, and medicine.
Learn more about the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine at www.nationalacademies.org.
Consensus Study Reports published by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine document the evidence-based consensus on the study’s statement of task by an authoring committee of experts. Reports typically include findings, conclusions, and recommendations based on information gathered by the committee and the committee’s deliberations. Each report has been subjected to a rigorous and independent peer-review process and it represents the position of the National Academies on the statement of task.
Proceedings published by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine chronicle the presentations and discussions at a workshop, symposium, or other event convened by the National Academies. The statements and opinions contained in proceedings are those of the participants and are not endorsed by other participants, the planning committee, or the National Academies.
For information about other products and activities of the National Academies, please visit www.nationalacademies.org/about/whatwedo.
COMMITTEE ON ADVANCING COMMERCIALIZATION FROM THE FEDERAL LABORATORIES
Ruth L. Okediji, Co-Chair, Harvard Law School
Donald Siegel, Co-Chair, Arizona State University
Margo A. Bagley, Emory University School of Law
Mary Beth Campbell, California Institute of Technology
Wesley M. Cohen, Duke University
Mark S. Kamlet, Carnegie Mellon University
Arti Rai, Duke University School of Law
Joel Waldfogel, University of Minnesota
John Wilbanks, Sage Bionetworks
Jetta Wong, JLW Advising
Gail Cohen, Study Director
David Dierksheide, Program Officer
Anita Eisenstadt, Program Officer
Frederic Lestina, Research Associate (through September 2020)
Clara Savage, Financial Officer
SUBJECT MATTER CONSULTANTS
Jorge L. Contreras, Senior Consultant
Jerome Reichman, Consultant
Michael Baumer, Consultant
Honggi Lee, Consultant
Robert Samors, Consultant
BOARD ON SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY, AND ECONOMIC POLICY
Adam B. Jaffe, Chair, Brandeis University
Noël Bakhtian, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
Jeff Bingaman, Former U.S. Senator, New Mexico
Brenda J. Dietrich (NAE), Cornell University
Brian G. Hughes, HBN Shoe, LLC
Adriana Kugler, Georgetown University
Arati Prabhakar (NAE), Founder and CEO, Actuate
Paula E. Stephan, Georgia State University
Scott Stern, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
John C. Wall (NAE), Cummins, Inc. (Retired)
John L. Anderson (NAE), Ex Officio Member, National Academy of Engineering
Victor J. Dzau (NAM), Ex Officio Member, National Academy of Medicine
Marcia McNutt (NAS), Ex Officio Member, National Academy of Sciences
Gail Cohen, Director
Rebecca Alcenius, Senior Project Assistant (through March 2020)
Meghan Ange-Stark, Associate Program Officer
Sophie Billinge, Senior Project Assistant
David Dierksheide, Program Officer
William Gaieck, Christine Mirzayan Science and Technology Policy Graduate Fellow (Winter 2020)
Frederic Lestina, Research Associate (through September 2020)
Clara Savage, Financial Officer
For more than 80 years, the United States federal laboratory system has been a bedrock of our national innovation system. In pursuit of a clear public mission, federal labs engage in complex, multidisciplinary R&D to address national scientific objectives that universities and firms are not equipped to undertake or that require significant investment of federal funds to respond to national emergencies. Renewed concern about the country’s competitiveness and the potential loss of technological leadership to foreign firms has refocused policy makers’ attention on maximizing returns on federal R&D investments, including by advancing the commercialization of digital products developed at the federal labs. Digital products developed by the federal labs include data, metadata, images, software, code, tools, databases, algorithms, and statistical models. These are all vital components of the national digital economic infrastructure, and they have assumed greater importance during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The committee’s task was to determine ways to advance commercialization of these digital products. We analyzed issues surrounding technology transfer and ownership of digital products emerging from the labs—focusing on identifying barriers to commercialization and recommendations to overcome them. Notably, we tackled a long-standing distinction between federal labs that can own intellectual property and those precluded from so doing. We also reviewed the dynamic policy considerations that inform whether the public interest is best served by dedicating federally funded digital products to the public domain.
The committee’s focus on potential benefits and limitations of open access models for dissemination led us to the conclusion that small, minority-owned, and woman-owned firms can be systemically excluded from accessing or exploiting government works freely available in the public domain because they lack the tools or resources to identify and exploit the vast number of works in the public domain. Moreover, we found that, at times, copyright ownership in federal software can improve opportunities for commercialization. Intellectual property ownership allows the federal labs to determine what avenues of commercialization will enhance returns to the public, including exerting control over downstream users to ensure the technology is made accessible to all members of the public. Overall, we found that improved coherence on intellectual property rights across federal labs can enhance equitable and robust access to federally funded digital products.
Another key finding in the report is that inadequate data on technology transfer limits the ability to undertake a comprehensive assessment of the antecedents and consequences of research commercialization by federal labs. There is a need for broader measures of technology transfer processes to reflect the full range of activities that lead up to commercialization. To better understand these processes, the committee also recognized the need for data on workplace/managerial practices relating to technology transfer, including individual and organizational factors that may inhibit or enhance lab researchers’ ability to engage in technology transfer and commercialization. These factors include the role of pecuniary and nonpecuniary incentives, organizational justice (workplace fairness and equity), championing, leadership, work-life balance, diversity and inclusion, and organizational culture. Such data would help improve our understanding of the potential roadblocks faced by scientists at federal labs who wish to pursue commercialization of their research. It would also allow us to assess how “better performance” in technology transfer is achieved.
Based on its findings, the committee generated a series of recommendations that are discussed in the report. Two recommendations stand out to us as especially significant. The first is that Congress should consider allowing copyright on software developed by government-owned, government-operated federal laboratories on a prospective basis. The second is that there should be a significant expansion of data collection at the individual and organizational levels. We recognize that this will be an additional burden on the labs, and we hope that new tools and techniques of data collection will help reduce that burden. Collectively, our recommendations are directed at building a healthier, more effective, and resilient federal laboratory system that is better understood by policy makers and well equipped to perform the public mission that remains critical for America’s scientific and technological progress and, ultimately, the welfare of her citizens.
The committee benefitted considerably from presentations by speakers from academia, industry, and government. The invaluable leadership of National Academies’ staff Gail Cohen, Study Director, and David Dierksheide, Program Officer, immeasurably improved the committee’s deliberations and the final report. Their tireless efforts ensured that the committee captured the issues’ complexity and addressed important details with diligence. We are also grateful to the dedication of other staff: Anita Eisenstadt, Frederic Lestina, and Clara Savage. Two subject matter experts who served as consultants to the committee—Professors Jerome Reichman and Jorge Contreras—made significant contributions that clarified essential dimensions of the committee’s work, and consultants Robert Samors, Michael Baumer, and Honggi Lee skillfully guided the committee’s framing of the overarching issues including technical analyses and data collection. We acknowledge all with deep gratitude.
|Ruth Okediji||Donald S. Siegel|
Acknowledgment of Reviewers
This Consensus Study Report was reviewed in draft form by individuals chosen for their diverse perspectives and technical expertise. The purpose of this independent review is to provide candid and critical comments that will assist the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine in making each published report as sound as possible and to ensure that it meets the institutional standards for quality, objectivity, evidence, and responsiveness to the study charge. The review comments and draft manuscript remain confidential to protect the integrity of the deliberative process.
We thank the following individuals for their review of this report: David Aspnes, North Carolina State University; Michael Carroll, American University; Gaétan de Rassenfosse, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne; Brenda Dietrich, Cornell University; Dinesh Divakaran, Duke University; Robin Feldman, University of California, Hastings College of Law; Shubha Ghosh, Syracuse University; Shane Greenstein, Harvard University; Michael Harrison, University of California, San Francisco; Karen LeVert, Ag TechInventures; David Maier, Portland State University; Steven Porter, Stanford University (ret.); and Steve Ray, QUDT.
Although the reviewers listed above provided many constructive comments and suggestions, they were not asked to endorse the conclusions or recommendations of this report nor did they see the final draft before its release. The review of this report was overseen by Maryellen Giger, University of Chicago, and TJ Glauthier, TJG Energy Associates. They were responsible for making certain that an independent examination of this report was carried out in accordance with the standards of the National Academies and that all review comments were carefully considered. Responsibility for the final content rests entirely with the authoring committee and the National Academies.
This page intentionally left blank.