Volume 22, Number 1 January 1993


Symposium on the Role of the National Labs in Fostering Competitiveness

Physics and Society presents here articles based on two of the five talks given at an invited session sponsored by the Forum on Physics and Society at the March 1992 APS meeting in Indianapolis. The session was chaired by Ruth Howes, Past Chair of the Forum.

Los Alamos National Laboratory and Technology Transfer

Terry D. Bearce

From its beginnings in 1943, Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) has traditionally used science and technology to find creative but practical solutions to complex problems. LANL is operated by the University of California (UC), under contract to the Department of Energy (DOE). We are a government owned, contractor operated facility, and a federally-funded research and development center. At LANL, our mission is to apply science and engineering capabilities to problems of national security. Recently our mission has been broadened to include technology transfer to ensure that our scientific and technical solutions are available to the marketplace.

We are, in staff and technical capabilities, one of the worldUs largest multidisciplinary, multiprogram labs. We conduct extensive research in energy, nuclear safeguards and security, biomedical science, conventional defense technologies, space science, computational science, environmental protection and cleanup, materials science, and other basic sciences. Since 1980, by a series of laws and executive orders, the resources of the federal labs have been made increasingly available to private industry via technology transfer efforts. LANL uses a variety of technology-transfer methods including lab visits, cooperative research, licensing, contract research, user facility access, personnel exchanges, consulting, publications, and workshops, seminars and briefings. We also use unique approaches, such as our negotiating teams, to ensure that transfer of our developed technology takes place in an open and competitive manner. I will discuss the overall process and some of the mechanisms that we use at LANL to transfer lab-developed technology.

Recently our mission has been broadened to include technology transfer to ensure that our scientific and technical solutions are available to the marketplace.

Authority. In order to ensure the full use of the lab's R&D results and capabilities, technology transfer at Los Alamos is a mission area covered under the prime contract between UC and DOE. Technology transfer as a lab mission is an implementation of the National Competitiveness Technology Transfer Act of 1989, and is consistent with the policy, principles, and purposes of the Stevenson-Wydler Technology Innovation Act of 1980, and of Chapter 38 of the Patent Laws, Section 152 of the Atomic Energy Act of 1954, Section 9 of the Federal Non-Nuclear Act of 1974, and Executive Order 12591 of 10 April 1987. LANL conducts technology-transfer activities with the clear intent of providing benefit from federal research to US industrial competitiveness.

At LANL, technology transfer is focused in the Industrial Partnership Center (IPC). The IPC is currently under development and will have satellite centers to concentrate on specific multidisciplinary research and development efforts that cross the lab's organizational boundaries. The IPC will incorporate most of our current outreach activities and will be the focal point for LANL technology outreach and initial interaction with the commercial sector. The Industrial Agreements Office (IAO) portion of the IPC will conduct the business negotiations of technology transfer agreements and provide technology transfer guidance, training, and education to potential industrial or business partners as well as to lab personnel regarding the business aspects of technology transfer. The IAO group also provides the overall technology transfer business and administrative support, and coordinates the legal, financial and contracting functions attendant to technology transfer at LANL.

Fairness of opportunity. LANL procedures and measures ensure widespread availability of technologies suited for transfer. Technology transfer activities are undertaken in an open, fair and competitive manner.

The LANL technology-transfer process

The process includes the following:

Identification of technology for transfer. Normally, the process starts with identification of a technology that is ready for transfer or that is determined to have potential commercial use. This identification may come from the developers, line management, or program management. Business and industry may also identify LANL developed technology that has commercial or industrial potential. Programmatic initiatives driven by DOE, or other federal research activities at LANL, and internally driven research to support our technology base are additional ways to identify technologies for transfer. These same initiatives can be used to develop new technology development that may have transfer potential.

LANL negotiating team. When a technology is identified as ready for transfer, a negotiating team is established. This team is composed of an individual from the IAO, the developers or inventors, representatives from line management, a representative from LANL's legal office and, representation from the lab's contracting and financial offices. Primarily, this negotiating team selects the company or companies that the technology is to be transferred to and advises the legal and business negotiators on technical issues during the negotiation process. Other federal agency funding sources can supply input to the negotiating team through LANL and the developers/inventors.

Public announcement. A public announcement of the technology available for transfer is made in the Commerce Business Daily (CBD), soliciting interest from the commercial sector. The CBD announcement may be augmented by direct mailing to industries, businesses, and companies engaged in the technology area. Potential CBD responders are given a reasonable time to respond. Other public announcement methods include, for example, the lab's participation in the R&D 100 Award system, trade publication articles, and news media articles.

Technical exchange. Responders to the public announcements are requested to sign a proprietary information agreement, which may be unilateral (proprietary information provided by one side only) or bilateral. LANL can protect company proprietary information for up to five years. Following this, we provide prospective industrial partners additional technical details on the technology available for transfer so that they can make an informed business decision as to whether or not they want to continue the technology transfer process. This technical exchange may take several forms, including seminars, conferences, publications, telephone discussions, technical staff member discussions, etc.

Technology development plans. Once the technical exchange is well under way or near completion, a technology development plan is developed. Under licensing activity, LANL requires that the company/business submit a plan, variously called a marketing plan, a business plan, or a development plan. LANL prepares a solicitation-type package that includes evaluation criteria and type of agreement anticipated, along with other terms and conditions expected to be a part of the final negotiated document. This information is based on previous discussions and the public announcement. The interested parties are given an opportunity to respond with their plan which details how the company plans to use, develop, market, and support the technology. This is a fairly extensive document, and is reviewed and evaluated by the negotiating team to identify the company that we will initiate formal negotiations with for the technology transfer. Whatever form the technology development plan takes, it identifies the technical work to be accomplished, and can identify the business aspects in significant detail.

Technology transfer mechanisms. Once the company is identified by the negotiating team, technology transfer mechanism discussions and negotiations begin.

Some mechanisms for technology transfer

Technology transfer can be accomplished by the following mechanisms:

Technical visits. In a general sense, technical visits, publications, and workshops/seminars/briefings are informal transfer mechanisms, although they may be part of a formal agreement.

Personnel exchanges are conducted as part of a formal agreement such as cooperative research agreements and may be unilateral or bilateral.

User facilities are designated by DOE and are established at LANL to ensure widespread participation by the scientific community in specific areas of research. User facilities are also accessible to commercial and industrial users through agreement with DOE. The contractual agreement in this case is between DOE and the company.

Contract research is based on an agreement with the company and DOE for the company to completely fund the technology development. This type of research must meet several criteria, including non-competition with industry and non-interference with other research activity at LANL. This contractual agreement is also between DOE and the company.

Consulting provides access to key lab technical individuals, and can be part of a licensing or cooperative research activity. Consulting agreements are a LANL line management approval function.

Licensing can occur as the result of technology developments from other technology transfer mechanisms or can occur based on a LANL developed technology which is mature enough to have commercial viability without further lab development activity. The full range of licensing activity is undertaken at LANL and is a negotiated process conducted by the IAO, with support from the negotiation team. The actual licensing agreement is a contractual agreement between the University of California and the involved company.

Cooperative research is accomplished under a negotiated process that includes initial DOE approval of the work to be conducted, a negotiated contractual agreement between LANL and the commercial entity; and overall approval by DOE.

Technology transfer issues, such as conflict of interest, US preference, and small business consideration, are specifically addressed by detailed University of California, DOE, and LANL policies and procedures, and are covered in the contract between the University of California and DOE. National Security issues are specifically covered under appropriate security regulations.

LANL conducts technology transfer activities with the clear intent of providing benefit from federal research to US industrial competitiveness. In the interest of enhancing US industrial competitiveness, LANL, in its licensing and assignments of intellectual property, gives preference to domestic business and industry so as to enhance US economic and technological benefits.

The author is with the Industrial Agreements Office at LANL