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Technology Transfer at U.S. Federal Laboratories: R&D Disclosures Patent Applications

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Part of the International Studies in Entrepreneurship book series (ISEN,volume 51)

Abstract

This chapter describes relationships within the technology transfer process at U.S. federal laboratories. Using federal laboratory data on R&D, invention disclosures, and patent applications, aggregated to the agency level, quantitative estimates of the relationship among these metrics are presented. The policy-related finding is that a 10 percent increase in R&D per 100 scientists is associated with between a 1.52 percent and a 2.04 percent increase in patent applications per 100 scientists.

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Fig. 3.1

Notes

  1. 1.

    See Bozeman and Link (2015), Leyden and Link (2015) and Link and Oliver (2020) for an in-depth discussion of the productivity slowdown and the various policy responses initiated by Congress in the early 1980s. See also Link and Oliver (2020) for an elaboration of the enabling legislation discussed in this section of the chapter.

  2. 2.

    A detailed discussion of the amendments to the Stevenson-Wydler Act is in Link and Oliver (2020). See footnote 10 below.

  3. 3.

    As Link, Siegel and van Fleet (2011) showed for Sandia National Laboratories and for the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), patenting activity did not increase in response to the Stevenson-Wydler Act. Patenting activity did increase after the passage of the Federal Technology Transfer Act, which included the following guideline: “The head of the agency or his designee shall pay at least 15 percent of the royalties or other income the agency receives on account of any [patented] invention to the inventor (or co-inventors) if the inventor (or each such co-inventor) was an employee of the agency at the time the invention was made.”

  4. 4.

    Arguably, U.S. Technology Policy is the first complete U.S. statement on technology policy since the productivity slowdowns.

  5. 5.

    Research access barriers exist even when technology transfer studies are commissioned by NIST. See the related discussion in RTI International (2019).

  6. 6.

    The relevant academic and policy literatures related to technology transfer in federal laboratories is reviewed in Link and Oliver (2020).

  7. 7.

    These annual reports are required under the Technology Transfer Commercialization Act of 2000 (Public Law 106-404).

  8. 8.

    One of the first systematic efforts to study technology transfer in federal laboratories using these data is by Link and Oliver (2020).

  9. 9.

    The Board on Science and Technology Policy at the National Academies (the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the Institute of Medicine) recently commissioned a study on Advancing Commercialization from the Federal Laboratories. See, https://sites.nationalacademies.org/PGA/step/PGA_191994.

  10. 10.

    Relevant amendments to the Stevenson-Wydler Act are, according to Schacht (2012): the Federal Technology Transfer Act of 1986 (Public Law 99-502), the 1988 Omnibus Trade and Competitiveness Act (Public Law 100-418), the 1990 Department of Defense Authorization Act (Public Law 101-189), the National Defense Authorization Act for FY1991 (Public Law 101-510), the 1996 Technology Transfer Improvements and Advancement Act (Public Law 104-113), and the Technology Transfer Commercialization Act of 2000 (Public Law 106-404).

  11. 11.

    The GAO illustration of elements of the technology transfer process is intended to emphasize licensing agreements. However, regardless of the output of the technology transfer process being emphasized, the internal portion will be similar if not identical to what we have shaded in the Fig. 3.1.

  12. 12.

    “The collection of this information is required to protect the United States rights to inventions created using Federal resources. The information collected on the form allows the Government to determine: (1) If an invention has been created; (2) the status of any statutory bar that pertains to the potential invention or that may pertain to the invention in the future. The information collected may allow the Government to begin a patent application process.” See, https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2019/08/07/2019-16882/proposed-information-collection-nist-invention-disclosure-and-inventor-information-collection.

  13. 13.

    It is not unusual for the licensing process to begin at the patent application stage.

  14. 14.

    The Stevenson-Wydler Act required federal laboratories to establish invention reporting practices.

  15. 15.

    Another important technology transfer mechanism, although not shown in Fig. 3.1, is CRADAs (Cooperative Research And Development Agreements), and patent applications can result from CRADAs. See, Chen, Link, and Oliver (2018).

  16. 16.

    See Link (2019) for an initial empirical study of the relationship among elements of the technology transfer process relevant to one federal laboratory, NIST.

  17. 17.

    There could be portions of TC that are not related to the laboratory’s R&D budget, and part of the R&D budget may include investments in HC. Imprecisions associated with the measures of HC and TC used to estimate these two equations are discussed.

  18. 18.

    See, https://www.nist.gov/tpo/reports-and-publications.

  19. 19.

    These agencies are U.S. Department of Agriculture, Department of Commerce, Department of Defense, Department of Energy, Health and Human Services, Department of Homeland Security (data are available for limited years), Department of Interior, Department of Transportation, Department of Veterans Affairs, Environmental Protection Agency, and National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

  20. 20.

    In separate regressions, we estimated equations (3.3) and (3.4) using data for the deleted seven agencies. Collectively, they represent less than 10% of the R&D in federal laboratories. The models do not hold for these agencies. These results are available from the author on request.

  21. 21.

    Choudhry and Ponzio (2020) suggested a new technology transfer metric for federal agencies to consider, namely, a Filing Ratio. Their Filing Ratio for an agency equals the number of new patent applications divided by the number of new inventions disclosed for a given period of time. Link and Oliver (2020) estimated a Filing Ratio for the four agencies considered in this chapter over the period of FY 2008 though FY 2015. Link and Oliver report the following: DOD = 0.862, DOE = 0.564, HHS = 0.678, and NASA = 0.085.

  22. 22.

    Since a 10% increase in R&D per 100 scientists is associated with a 4.63% increase in Invention disclosures per 100 scientists, and since a 10% increase in Invention disclosures per 100 scientists is associated with a 4.40% increase in Patent applications per 100 scientists, then a 10% increase in R&D per scientists is associated with a 2.04% ((4.63 × 4.40)/10) increase in Patent applications per 100 scientists.

  23. 23.

    Since a 10% increase in R&D per 100 scientists is associated with a 4.70% increase in Invention disclosures per 100 scientists, and since a 10% increase in Invention disclosures per 100 scientists is associated with a 3.23% increase in Patent applications per 100 scientists, then a 10% increase in R&D per scientists is associated with a 1.52% ((4.70 × 3.23)/10) increase in Patent applications per 100 scientists.

  24. 24.

    Recall that President Obama’s 2011 Memorandum called for “accelerating technology transfer.”

  25. 25.

    New invention disclosures might decline even in the absence of continued or even increasing R&D. Bloom et al. (2020, p. 1138) make the point through examples, although mostly from the private sector, that good ideas are becoming harder to find, and they conclude that: “[o]ur robust finding is that research productivity is falling sharply everywhere we look.”

  26. 26.

    See Link and Scott (2019a, b) for an illustration of this fact for NIST.

  27. 27.

    See also, Link and Scott (2019c).

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Acknowledgments

The author thanks Michael Hall (National Institute of Standards and Technology, NIST), John Scott (Dartmouth College), and Chris Swann (University of North Carolina at Greensboro) for their helpful comments and suggestions on earlier versions of this chapter. Any remaining shortcomings are our own.

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Link, A.N. (2021). Technology Transfer at U.S. Federal Laboratories: R&D Disclosures Patent Applications. In: Guerrero, M., Urbano, D. (eds) Technology Transfer and Entrepreneurial Innovations. International Studies in Entrepreneurship, vol 51. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-70022-5_3

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