Report on the White House Lab-to-Market Summit

August 15, 2013

3:00 pm

On May 20, 2013 I was honored to be one of 20 invited “experts” at the White House Lab-to-Market Inter-Agency Summit held at the White House Conference Center in Washington, D.C. The Summit was organized by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and the National Institutes of Health’s Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. The purpose of the meeting was highly unusual: Asking national experts outside of the federal agency system to recommend ways to increase the return-on-investment for the $140 billion annual taxpayer expenditure on federally-funded research and development.

The keynote talks were given by Tom Kalil (Deputy Director for Technology and Innovation, OSTP) and Todd Park (U.S. Chief Technology Officer). They both said that the federal government is quite interested in getting more of the innovations that are funded with federal dollars out into the market. They challenged the panelists to come up with inspirational and transformational, not incremental, ideas. It was widely understood among the participants that getting a return on the investment that the U.S. makes in federally funded R&D is a key global imperative as the U.S.’s traditional lead as a technology innovator is diminishing.

In addition to the expert panel, 60 people from the federal tech transfer machinery industry also participated. These people were mostly from the various government departments that have broad R&D agendas (such as the Dept. of Defense, National Institutes of Health, Dept. of Energy, NASA, etc.). Early in the day, five of the government representatives described their programs. Then we spent the rest of the day brainstorming and debating various programmatic ideas to recommend to OSTP.

The members of the Expert Panel were asked to address:

  • Common barriers and approaches to lab-to-market models
  • Agency end market or technology-specific barriers
  • Resources that can be leveraged across agencies and programs
  • Mechanisms to inventory and share best practices
  • Policies that enhance cross-agency program cooperation and public-private partnerships
  • Cross-agency initiative development
  • Current/potential linkages with the private sector, and related local and state programs
  • Metrics of success

The panel offered several recommendations which are summarized here. The first is to create a new Office of Innovation and Federal Technology Partnerships with the following responsibilities:

  • Leveraging Cross-Agency Synergies and Increasing Efficiencies
  • Strengthening Public-Private Partnerships
  • Optimizing Federal Laboratory Commercialization
  • Adapting and Implementing Innovation Best Practices

The second major recommendation involves strengthening capital investments and entrepreneurial resources to support commercialization of federally-funded research. Specifically:

  • Creating Innovative Public-Private Partnerships and Investment Vehicles
  • Leveraging the SBIR/STTR Programs

And finally, each of the panelists was given an opportunity to offer his own suggestions or ideas that were not adopted formally by the entire group. One of my ideas was to institute a Dutch auction to stimulate the licensing and commercialization of federal patents that have not been licensed within two years of issuance.  This would help clear the backlog of tens of thousands of patents which have not been licensed, and it would create an active market for those that have residual value. Those not licensed via the Dutch auction would be abandoned as a matter of policy.

The final conference report can be downloaded from my blog at: If you look in the lower right-hand corner, there’s a Flash Widget where you can download the document. Also available for download is my Congressional testimony on a related subject. 

We were specifically asked NOT to solicit ideas in advance of the conference, so those opinions that I brought to the Summit were my own. But now that the report is out, the dialogue can begin. I welcome your ideas and comments on how to better commercialize federally funded research. What do you think of a Dutch auction to clear the backlog of government-owned patents for innovations that have not been commercialized?

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Neil Kane, the Director of Undergraduate Entrepreneurship at Michigan State University, is a leading authority on technology commercialization and innovation and has the battle scars to prove it. He was named a Technology Pioneer by the World Economic Forum in 2007. His Twitter handle is @neildkane. He’s also on Google+ and LinkedIn.

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