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Technology Transfer: Triggering New Global Markets and Job Growth

September 20, 2011 - 11:33am

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The Global Positioning System (GPS) was initially a government technology developed to guide nuclear missiles, and is one of the many examples of the economic potential of successful technology transfer -- the now worldwide location technologies market is projected to grow to $75 billion by 2013.

The Global Positioning System (GPS) was initially a government technology developed to guide nuclear missiles, and is one of the many examples of the economic potential of successful technology transfer -- the now worldwide location technologies market is projected to grow to $75 billion by 2013.

Do you remember the last time you were lost in a city without a clue of which way to go? Come to think of it, neither do I. Navigational systems are almost ubiquitous these days – appearing in mobile phone and mapping applications, and integrated with social networks, local information searches, family tracker applications, and enterprise applications including workforce tracking and fleet management.

Believe it or not, the Global Positioning System (GPS) was initially a government technology developed to guide nuclear missiles. Once this technology was transferred to private industry, GPS found a vast array of applications, far greater than its previous use, triggering a now worldwide location technologies market, which is projected to grow at a rate of more than 20 percent to $75 billion by 2013

This is one of many examples of the economic potential of successful technology transfer, as well as the importance of maximizing our nation’s investments in basic science and applied Research & Development to ensure a vibrant innovation and commercialization ecosystem, as well as new business and job creation.

On Friday, I had the honor of attending the historic signing of the America Invents Act, patent reform legislation that will help American entrepreneurs and businesses bring their inventions to market sooner, creating new businesses and new jobs. At the signing, President Barack Obama spoke of the need for this bipartisan legislation to speed up the patent process so that innovators and entrepreneurs can turn a new invention into a business as quickly as possible

“Here in America, our creativity has always set us apart, and in order to continue to grow our economy, we need to encourage that spirit wherever we find it,” said President Obama.

While the successful passage of this comprehensive and pro-innovation patent reform legislation is a great start that should be celebrated, more will need to be done in order for us to rise to the President’s call to “out-innovate, out-educate, and out-build the rest of the world.”

It is critical to keep in mind that the economic impact of scientific discovery is not delivered merely through the creation of a patented technology or process.  Rather, the economic value is delivered through the successful commercialization of that intellectual property, which means delivering new products, services and processes that will be used by the American public, industry and global markets.  It’s the substantial profits that often result from successful commercialization that provide the incentive for private sector investment to develop and scale these technologies. 

Job creation is the natural byproduct as these novel goods, services and processes are perfected and deployed to the market.  Supply chain, marketing, sales, service and related complementary industries also experience growth as the companies that are created or expanded to commercialize the new innovation ramp up to meet the demand that is created.  

A case in point is Thomas Edison’s creation of the incandescent light bulb.  While the story is well known, the impact of Edison’s creation remains unappreciated by most.  Consider how much more discovery, productivity and innovation has been enabled by Edison’s light bulb -- from the mere convenience of easily being able to read or travel at night, to flash photography and new light bulb improvements, such as the more energy efficient fluorescents and light-emitting diodes (LEDs).

More work must be done to streamline the process from creation to commercialization in order to ensure that the best ideas are appropriately matured and introduced to the marketplace, and avoid what is referred to as the “Valley of Death” – where great innovations go to die. Just as in the broad marketplace, the Energy Department has a large number of unlicensed patents that could be commercialized.  However, there needs to be a sustained effort to continue eliminating barriers and unnecessary constraints. 

The first step in moving our inventions to the marketplace is licensing.  A license is the contractual vehicle that a patent holder utilizes to give permission to a licensee to use the invention for their purposes.  Each license is unique and is based on applicable criteria such as the size of the technology, the market it plans to pursue and the needs of the company. 

Over the last year, a great deal of my time has been spent on streamlining the Energy Department licensing process.   In May, we launched the “America’s Next Top Energy Innovator Competition,” which provides a low-cost option to newly created companies and budding entrepreneurs. An option is a precursor to a license. Under the program, options to license up to three patents in one technology area from a single Energy Department National Laboratory are available at the low cost of only $1,000.  The program defers patent costs and upfront option fees. Technologies available for licensing through this program can be found here.

To learn more about how you can apply for these patents, please join the America’s Next Top Energy Innovator Webinar tomorrow, Wednesday, September 21st at 1pm ET. You can also learn more about what your company's total savings could potentially be, and how you can appear in a showcase at the 3rd Annual ARPA-E Energy Innovation Summit showcase in 2012 -- a premier annual gathering of clean energy investors and innovators around the country.

This challenge was inspired by the Obama Administration’s Start-Up America Initiative, which supports innovation and entrepreneurship through a set of entrepreneur-focused policy initiatives in five areas: unlocking access to capital; connecting mentors; reducing barriers; accelerating innovation and unleashing market opportunities. The Energy Department will continue to look at ways to reduce barriers to licensing to both established companies, as well as start-ups while promoting our technology opportunities.

For more information on America’s Next Top Energy Innovator Competition, visit here.

For more information on the Start-Up America Initiative, visit here.

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