Redefining "tech transfer"

Last month, the Commerce Department released its Annual Report on Technology Transfer: Approach and Plans, Fiscal Year 2013 Activities and Achievements. As the press release noted, the report highlighted activities of three federal laboratories: the National Institute of Science and Technology (NIST), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the Institute for Telecommunication Sciences (ITS) of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA). Featured in the press release was the new NIST test for firefighter breathing equipment.
What is especially interesting in the report, however, is NIST’s adoption of a broad definition of “technology transfer.” Traditionally tech transfer has meant the sale or licensing of patents and, for government labs, Cooperative Research and Development Agreements (CRADAs) with the private sector (i.e. joint research projects). In the case of government labs, scientific publications are also considered technology transfer. Under the broader definition NIST recognizes two parts to tech transfer:

1) knowledge transfer, the act of transferring knowledge from one individual to another by means of mentoring, training, documentation, or other collaboration; and 2) commercialization, the adoption of a technology into the private sector through a business or other organization.

As a result, NIST will be revamping how it measures technology transfer:

NIST will expand how it considers collaborations beyond the number of CRADAs into a comprehensive metric that encompasses the broad range of NIST formal and informal collaborations. NIST will implement this by (i) developing a definition of a credited “collaboration,” (ii) developing processes and procedures to capture credited collaborations, and (iii) conducting a feasibility study on whether impact data can be generated.

It will be very interesting to see what they can come up with for measuring the inform collaborations. The report indicates some direction – with sections on postdoctoral researchers, guest researchers, start-up companies, education outreach programs and partnerships, and conferences, seminars, and workshops.
Given that NIST is the nation’s premier standard setting organization, one might assume that other tech transfer organizations — such as in other government labs and in universities — might adopt the same metrics. Such a broad set of metrics might help universities better understand and integrate their tech transfer activities into the university’s tradition three-fold role of education, research and community service.

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