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Unleashing American Innovation Symposium

The United States invests about $150 billion each year on federal R&D, but are the American taxpayers reaping the full benefit of that investment?

The Unleashing American Innovation Symposium was about highlighting the nation’s journey to a new level of innovation performance. This path will seek the best models and approaches for converting the results of federally funded R&D and intellectual property into new companies and jobs as well as entirely new industries that bring new products, technologies and better healthcare to the American people. The symposium also explored barriers that limit industry’s access to federal R&D and ways to maximize the economic, security and societal benefits to the nation.

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How Federal Laboratories Spur Innovation

In addition to helping the public understand how science can improve daily lives, federal laboratories play an increasingly important role nationally in promoting regional growth by partnering with entrepreneurs to create new jobs, products, and companies. 

Several of the state’s laboratories including JILA, NCAR, and the Energy Department’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) work collaboratively with industry researchers and support startup companies by offering access to their scientists and facilities.  For example, through its annual Industry Growth Forums, NREL has provided an opportunity for 30 cleantech startup companies to present their business cases to an expert panel of investors and energy executives. To date, participating companies have raised more than $4 billion in growth financing.

Work conducted in Colorado’s federally funded research laboratories is also critical to protecting lives and property. A NOAA research group in Boulder, for example, works on weather modeling innovations that improve forecasting, especially for high-impact storms. These innovations give emergency managers and others better information, earlier. That team developed the HRRR, or High-Resolution Rapid Refresh model, now used in the 122 National Weather Service offices around the country.


“NOAA’s research efforts have been crucial to improving the forecasts of hazardous aviation weather, which impacts the safety and the efficiency of the National Airspace System," said the Federal Aviation Administration's Steve Abelman.

The FAA has long supported NOAA's weather research efforts, and the outcomes have included validation of turbulence, in-flight icing and thunderstorm forecasts now used operationally in the national airspace, according to Abelman. "Long-term research has led to new and improved weather prediction models such as the High Resolution Rapid Refresh, which is integrated into FAA decision-making every day," he said.

The collective impact of the labs’ research also ripples out to every state in the country,” said Dan Powers, executive director of CO-LABS. “Ranging from partnership agreements to licensing of technology to outright free access to the research from these taxpayer-funded labs, thousands of companies throughout the United States representing hundreds of thousands of jobs utilize this science in ways that make us healthier, safer, more sustainable and global leaders in innovation.” 

US Dept of cOmmerce Office of Space Commerce resources for Space Entrepreneurs

By law, each federal agency involved in research is required to have an Office of Research and Technology Applications, abbreviated ORTA. This office is intended to serve as an intermediary between the Laboratory and those outside such as universities, private companies and nonprofit entrepreneurial support agencies.
Some of the tools available for “outsiders” to collaborate with federal Labs are summarized below:
Small Business Innovation Research awards (SBIR) This is a competitive program designed to encourage the commercialization of products and processes developed by small businesses through grants of federal funds.
Small Business Technology Transfer program (STTR) is similar to SBIR except it only applied to the departments of Defense, Energy, Health and Human Services, NASA and the National Science Foundation and award applicants are partnerships of small businesses and universities.
Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) These agreements are used when a Lab and a private company share mutual research interests. They spell out the details of the relationship, cost sharing, and protection of the resulting discoveries or products.
Intellectual Property (IP) The labs can patent technology developed by their scientists and license inventions to companies that will commercialize them. If the lab collaborates with an outside partner on an invention, intellectual property issues are typically negotiated and formalized in advance.
Personnel Exchanges It is possible for Laboratory scientists to be deployed on a short term basis to private sector companies and universities, or for company employees and university personnel to be deployed to a Lab to enhance the knowledge, expertise and research of both parties. This is discretionary with each Lab and paid for by the outside party.
Technical Assistance (Work for Others) agreements allows a Laboratory to advise US companies or other researchers on problems for which the Lab has special expertise or equipment. There may be a fee and a formal agreement if the assistance requires more than an incidental amount of time.
Use of Facilities Outside entities such as universities, technology incubators, private companies and individual inventors may be able to use scientific equipment, specialized rooms, testing centers or other unique experimental property of the Labs. This use is at the discretion of the Lab with costs paid by the user.

Federal Laboratory Consortium   website
FLC Technology Locator helps match user technical requests for expertise and facilities with appropriate federal laboratory capabilities. Their website also has a good list of Resources about technology transfer.

National Technical Information Service   website
This federal agency collects and disseminates scientific and technical information generated by federally funded research.

Technology Transfer Tactics   website

Robert Byrd National Technology Transfer Center   website
This organization offers information and assistance about federal technologies.

CO-LABS Promote Educate Connect log
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