Technology transfer is the process by which technology is transferred from federal labs, universities, or other research institutions to industry where it can be developed into a commercial product or service.
The U.S. government funds over $100 billion in research and development activity annually, which leads to a continuous pipeline of new inventions and technologies. Technology transfer enables the commercialization of many of these technologies by industry partners who may further develop, scale up, and commercially deploy them.
Beginning with the Stevenson-Wydler Technology Innovation Act of 1980, Congress enacted a series of laws to promote and incentivize technology transfer. These laws encourage the private sector to commercialize federally funded technology through technology transfer mechanisms such as Cooperative Research and Development Agreements (CRADAs), start-up companies, patent license agreements, educational partnership agreements, and state/local government partnerships.
Stevenson-Wydler Technology Innovation Act of 1980
The Stevenson-Wydler Technology Innovation Act of 1980 (Pub. L. 96–480) (94 Stat. 2311) was the first major U.S. technology transfer law. It requires federal laboratories to actively participate in and budget for technology transfer activities and for each federal lab to establish an Office of Research and Technology Applications in order to coordinate and promote technology transfer.
The Bayh Dole Act
The Bayh-Dole Act or Patent and Trademark Law Amendments Act (“Bayh-Dole”) (Pub. L. 96-517), 35 U.S.C. § 200–212, was passed in 1980 to incentivize and accelerate the commercial exploitation of federally funded research results. It allows institutions and grant recipients, such as universities, to hold the title to patents on inventions stemming from government funded research and to license the rights to those inventions to industry partners. This can generate valuable royalties for the research institution if the technology is successfully commercialized.
Bayh-Dole led to the remarkable growth of patenting and licensing activity by U.S. universities. Bayh-Dole has also spurred significant growth in the number of start-up companies formed to develop and commercialize these federally funded technologies, pursuant to licenses from universities.
Federal Technology Transfer Act (FTTA) of 1986
The Federal Technology Transfer Act (Pub. L. 99-502), 15 U.S.C 3710, was enacted by Congress in 1986 and amends the Stevenson-Wydler Act of 1980. The FTTA improves industry access to technologies from federal laboratories. The act established the Federal Laboratory Consortium for Technology Transfer, a nationwide network of over 300 federal laboratories, agencies, and research centers that promote the commercialization of technologies from the federal labs. The FTTA also enabled federal laboratories to negotiate licenses for patented inventions made at the laboratory and to enter into Cooperative Research and Development Agreements (CRADAs). CRADAs are formal written agreements between one or more federal laboratories and one or more non-federal parties under which the government, through its laboratories, provides personnel, services, facilities, equipment, intellectual property, or other resources. Under the FTTA, no funds, however, may be provided by the federal laboratories to the non-federal parties.
National Technology Transfer and Advancement Act of 1995
The National Technology Transfer and Advancement Act of 1995 (Pub. L. 104-113)(110 Stat. 775) amended the Stevenson-Wydler Act to make CRADAs more attractive to both federal laboratories and private industry. The law provides assurances to U.S. companies that they will be granted sufficient intellectual property rights to justify prompt commercialization of inventions arising from a CRADA. The Act promoted the development of new technology standards by requiring that all federal agencies use cooperatively developed standards, particularly those developed by standards developing organizations.
The USPTO facilitates the voluntary licensing and commercialization of innovations in a variety of key technologies from many public sources through its Patents 4 Partnerships platform, a searchable repository of patents and published patent applications that are available for licensing. Additionally, the USPTO supports a number of federal agencies, U.S. universities, the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs, and the Federal Laboratory Consortium for Technology Transfer in their technology transfer efforts to commercialize federally funded inventions.