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Congress Listens on Ways to Improve Commercialization Practices

Jonathan Ortmans, President, Public Forum Institute

Today, I attended the House Committee on Science and Technology’s Subcommittee on Research and Science Education a hearing titled “From the Lab Bench to the Marketplace: Improving Technology Transfer.” The representatives heard from experts on ways to approach the improvement of the process of transferring or commercializing knowledge and technology from academia to the private sector. The motivation: strengthening the global competitiveness of the United States. 

The committee estimates that about half of the growth in our GDP since World War II is related to the development and adoption of new technologies. Although the US innovation model has been recognized globally, it could and must be improved to remain ahead in innovation and, of course, to boost the economy since innovative startups are strong engines for job creation and wealth.
As the Committee with jurisdiction over NSF, witnesses suggested NSF expand its efforts to promote technology transfer by providing proof of concept or gap funding to basic research results that show commercialization potential and by providing faculty and students at the postdoctoral, graduate students, and undergraduate level with the opportunity to build their entrepreneurial and business-related skills. 

Kauffman Foundation Vice President Lesa Mitchell made two specific proposals. She called for federal agencies that fund research to become more involved with driving university-specific improvements in technology commercialization. The other proposal would serve to increase the transparency of research resulting from federal funding through the creation of an “Innovation Exchange.” Mitchell argues that the federal government should implement policy that requires all universities receiving federal funding to allow the outcomes of their research to become immediately accessible through a centralized clearinghouse.

I hope that these ideas quickly gain traction in Congress. Several other actors in governments have already recognized the importance of improving commercialization pathways. This past February, Department of Commerce Secretary Gary Locke convened a meeting at the National Academies to open a dialogue with university and industry leaders focused on improving commercialization practices. In May, the Kauffman Foundation co-hosted the White House Energy Innovation Summit, which focused on developing and accelerating energy innovation. And, as Lesa Mitchell pointed out, “it is not just the Administration speaking out on this issue; university presidents and industry leaders are calling for new models and a review of practices in this arena.”
You can watch the webcast of the hearing here, and access witnesses’ testimonies here. 

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