ntil about 15 years ago in theworld of the U.S. government, technology transfer was a bad word, not a buzzword. It was deemed "inconsistent with mission of the Atomic Energy Commission" because it was perceived to detract from government research and draw talented personnel from national laboratories. But times have changed. Since the passage of federal laws in the 1980s, technology transfer has evolved into an important mission of national research facilities.
Oak Ridge National Laboratory, once an Atomic Energy Commission research facility and now a Department of Energy (DOE) laboratory, has always been ahead of the game in this arena. Since the 1960s, ORNL researchers have formed spin-off companies that manufacture and market technical products. As early as 1962, ORNL Director Alvin Weinberg established an Office of Industrial Cooperation to speed the adoption of scientific advances by the private sector. In the 1970s and 1980s, the federal government made it easier to transfer national laboratory technologies to the private sector by setting up mechanisms such as licenses, collaborative research agreements, and cooperative research and development agreements (CRADAs). Today the Oak Ridge Complex is a leader in technology transfer, responsible for nearly 20% of the total number of CRADAs entered into by DOE facilities. Oak Ridge also consistently places among the DOE leaders for its number of active licenses of patents.
Technology transfer is more of an art than a science. The beauty in this art lies in the ability of technology transfer to leverage the talents and funds of the government and private sectors to accelerate, enhance, and cuts costs of DOE mission work. The results benefit American industry because cutting-edge technologies from the national laboratories are being used to give U.S. businesses a competitive edge.
Bill Martin considers technology transfer a sound business practice.
In Oak Ridge, technology transfer is not a business theory that just sounds good on paper; it's a sound business practice. Technology transfer comes in many forms such as licenses of intellectual property, CRADAs, personnel exchange, user facility agreements, technical assistance, work for others, and information exchange. The Laboratory continually pursues beneficial partnering with other entities through combinations of these mechanisms and through other novel approaches.
For example, ORNL collaborated with 3M Corporation to invent a "candle filter" for DOE's Fossil Energy Program that makes possible the next generation of cleaner, more energy-efficient coal power plants. Successful scale-up of the ORNL invention was the major technical constraint; however, this hurdle was overcome through a strategic technology transfer partnership. ORNL issued a competitive procurement for a development subcontract to mature the technology. The subcontract was granted to 3M because it met the primary criteriait was willing to share the cost and it was committed to commercializing the ORNL technology.
According to Rod Judkins, an ORNL principal investigator, 3M provided six of the ten researchers assigned to the project and contributed expertise in materials science and filter technology. The DOE power plant program was thus advanced by an estimated 10 years, and ORNL work in developing heat exchangers for these power plants was accelerated by 5 years. (For more details on this technology transfer story, see "Technology Transfer.")
Other examples of the transfer of ORNL technologies described in this issue are gelcasting (described in the article "ORNL's Gelcasting: Molding the Future of Ceramic Forming?") and production and use of nickel and iron aluminides (described in the article "Nickel Aluminides: Breaking into the Marketplace"). Like the candle filters, these technologies received R&D 100 awards in 1995. Gelcasting may become the process of choice for making ceramic products such as certain automotive parts, accelerator magnets, and possibly even artificial bone. ORNL-developed nickel aluminides are being used as furnace furniture for the manufacture of auto parts and as rollers for shuttling steel plates into furnaces for heat treatment.
Technology transfer projects are much more successful than some critics will admit. They are a cost-effective means of leveraging private and government dollars and talent to accomplish government missions efficiently while strengthening the competitiveness of private U.S. industry. Independent estimates place the market value of the ORNL-3M candle filters at $200 million per year by 1998 with a total market of approximately $7 billion from now to 2003. Because the ORNL-developed candle filter is the first of its kind to enter the market and is superior to competitors, it likely will dominate both the U.S. and world markets. DOE will benefit from considerable royalty income, 25% of which is eligible to be returned to the division that produces the licensable technology for maturation of other technologies. The top ORNL divisions receiving technology maturation funds from this source include Metals and Ceramics, Engineering Technology, and Health and Safety Research.
Product sales of inventions and services based on DOEOak Ridge technologies topped the $110 million mark in fiscal year 1995. The number of licenses that will produce such royalties is climbing steadily also, with more than a 50% jump from 1994 to 1995 alone.
Together, Lockheed Martin Energy Systems (which manages the Oak Ridge Y-12 Plant and K-25 Site) and Lockheed Martin Energy Research Corporation (which manages ORNL) have 287 CRADAs and 154 licenses. ORNL alone has 168 CRADAs and 130 licenses.
Department of Energy benefits from technology transfer continue to increase in number. Since 1992, the number of full-time equivalent employees who were actually guest workers contributing to mission work increased more than 80%. Partner contributions to CRADAs as a percentage of total R&D budget have also continued to rise since 1992.
Whatever the nametechnology transfer, industrial partnerships, or research collaborationspartnering with the private sector, academia, and other government entities will remain a vital function for practicing the most efficient R&D possible and for turning the cutting edge of science and technology into the competitive edge of U.S. business.
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