Technology Transfer Opportunities in the National Laboratories Background Reference Materials

Final Report
Technology Transfer Opportunities in the National Laboratories
Background Reference Materials
July 1993
Revised September 1994
Prepared for:
Utility Federal Technology Opportunities (UFTO)
Edward Beardsworth

Part of a series examining technology opportunities at National Laboratories of possible interest to electric utilities

1. DOE Industry Partners Program
2. Search & Inquiry Support Services
(including the National Tech Transfer Center)
3. The GM Story
4. Outline of a Generic Process

This report is proprietary and confidential. It is for internal use by personnel of companies that are subscribers in the UFTO multi-client program. It is not to be otherwise copied or distributed except as authorized in writing.

DOE Industry Partner Programs

AMTEX — American Textile Partnership

Announced in March 1993, the DOE and the american textile industry formed a multi-million dollar agreement to create a research collaboration among the 8 DOE labs, DOE, and five R&D consortia in the textile industry. It is coordinated by Pacific Northwest Labs.

It is being viewed with considerable optimism, and is one of several organizational “models” for DOE to establish closer ties to industry, noting in particular that it was designed to create a relationship where there hadn’t been one at all–unlike the case of the utility/energy industry.


Also in March, Secretary O’Leary directed the DOE and labs to evaluate eight more industries in terms of what the labs might have to offer them. One of the eight was the Utility Industry.

On April 7, a hastily organized meeting was held at Brookhaven National Lab to begin to draft an evaluation and set of recommendations. (BNL had volunteered or been chosen to take the lead for the utility industry study.) Most of the labs were represented (though not LLNL), and GRI and EPRI (Bob Aldridge) were asked to participate as spokesmen for the utility industry, in the interests of time and efficiency, noting the very short time available (one month) to develop the report for Secty O’Leary.

Reports were submitted to the Secretary in early May, on schedule, and some indication of a response is expected by mid June. What form that response will take is not known. There may be a request for more detail, or perhaps a directive to go ahead with a major planning activity. Reports for some of the other 7 industries were sent back to authors for more information. There was no such request for the BNL report, though there have been some comments that the BNL report took insufficient note of extensive and long standing relationships between DOE, the labs and the utility industry.

BNL indicates that they are aware that they only scratched the surface of both the industry and of what the labs might have to offer. These aspects, along with detailed consideration of the organizational model, will be pursued in whatever follow-on activity is put in place.

Update 6/24/93
Rumors have it that the BNL report was not well received, due in large part to internal criticism within DOE. Tracking a report of another intiative reportedly underway in NREL and the DOE/Energy Effic& Renewable Energy.

Update 7/30/93
The NREL initiative is proceeding. A meeting will be held in Denver on August 4 with representatives of all the laboratories. The BNL proposal is reportedly dead.
[Note 10/94 : This effort appears to have faded away also. Rumors are that EPRI had some problems with it. More recent developments will be covered in a separate report.]

Search & Inquiry Support Services

There are a number of public and private operations that provide support and access services of various kinds, to help clients with a specific need or problem to find resources in the federal laboratories.

The National Technology Transfer Center, (316 Washington Ave., Wheeling, WV 26003)
Established 1992. Provides a free inquiry service intended to put one in touch with one or more contact individuals. They are not supposed to to “searches’ (database) per se, as that role is assigned to the various “Regional Tech Transfer Centers”, who do it for pay. NTTC has a free online service called “Business Gold”
1-800-678-NTTC 304-243-2456 fax 304-243-2539

Regional Technology Transfer Centers (various locations around the US)
Originally set up by NASA, these now have a broader charter to do “value-added” service, charging for searches and technical and commercialization assistance.
Westborough MA 508-872-0042 Pittsburgh PA 412-648-7000
Univ of Florida 904-462-3913 College Station TX 409-845-8762
Cleveland OH 216-734-0094 Los Angeles CA 213-743-6132

Federal Laboratory Consortium (224 W. Washington, Suite 3, Sequim WA 98382)
Holds conferences and workshops, publishes guidebooks and a newsletter. Offers “locator” service and has a set of regional contacts around the country.
206-683-1828 fax 206-683-6654


“Technology Transfer Business” quarterly magazine, free to TT professionals. Published by Washington Technology in association with NIST. Vienna VA 703-848-2800

“Cooperative Technology RD&D Report”, $640/yr., monthly by Technology Publishing Group, Washington DC 202-966-9610

“Technology Access Report”, $447/yr, monthly by University R&D Opportunities, Box 2189, Berkeley CA 800-959-1059. (broad coverage of university & int’l tech. opptys)

“Inside R&D”, $740/yr, weekly by Technical Insights, Inc, Englewood NJ (incl international).

“Inside Technology Policy”, biweekly, $499/year, 1333 H Street,NW, Wash DC 2005, (202)842-0520.

“New Technology Week”, weekly, $624/year, , King Publications (publishers of Energy Daily), 627 National Press Bldg, Wash DC 20045, (202) 662-9711

“Tech Transfer Report”, $395/yr., monthly by McGraw Hill, NY NY, 800-223-6180

“NASA Tech Briefs”, $75 /year. Free to qualified subscribers, monthly by Associated Business Publications, 41 E. 42nd St. NY NY 10017-5391. Contact NASA, Manager Tech Transfer, 800 Elkridge Landing Rd. Linthicum Heights, MD 21090-9908 and ask for application form. Tel 410-859-5300

“Technologies Tomorrow”, $450/year, 8 issues/yr., Box 21897, Albuqurque NM 87154, (505)237-1070.

The General Motors Story

General Motors made a corporate decision to go to the national labs to see what opportunities awaited them there. They made a major commitment of resources to do it, and are participating vigorously at the Federal policy level to improve the process.

• In January ’92 they hosted a conference for the national labs at their Technical Center in Warren MI, with the largest number of National Lab personnel ever, and over 2000 GM employees.
• They have visited or will visit all the major DOE labs repeatedly, and with numbers of personnel, for a series of meetings designed to establish joint projects.

The following are rough notes are from a telephone conversation in April 1993 with Rich Marczewski about the process of getting acquainted with a DOE lab. Rich is a Manager at GMs Tech Center.*

– Phone call to the Lab’s TT office, introducing their objectives
– Followup letter outlines high-level array of the company’s needs
– Schedule a 2 day visit —
– Lab drafts a suggested agenda with one paragraph summaries of presentations to be made by lab personnel.
– GM published abstracts in internal company newsletter to find GM people with the needs

Initially, the lab and GM know virtually nothing about each other, so GM starts meeting with presentation about GM. Need to get acquainted, see what lab’s strengths are, and match to GM needs.

Internally GM identified problems/needs and assistance needed — 1 pagers sent on ahead to Lab.

GM Needs Briefing–GM presentations to audience of lab personnel. GM and lab people pair off to go discuss possible projects and collaborations in greater detail. In one such session, had 60 presentations resulting in 34 matchups.

Social time built into the schedule–to allow relationships to develop.

Repeat visits–get match ups by the 3rd visit and start writing SOW’s. Takes a lot of time

2 day visit is the most anyone can handle–info overload (e.g. Sandia and Los Alamos too much in one go). Set aside time back at the office immediately on returning to go over notes and follow up, or you’ll forget!

Look beyond what the lab suggests for applications, and look at the underlying technology (e.g. High power lasers adapted for metal parts fab)

Program had a lot of doubters in GM but fewer as time goes on.

The system (and attorneys) holds things back. Government bound to “fairness”. National competitiveness vs exclusivity, etc etc.

More cooperative arrangements and fewer straight licenses or Scientist/Engineer exchanges.

(* Rich left GM in 11/93 and went to NREL.)

Outline of a Generic Process

Getting to Know a National Laboratory

1. Getting Started — Finding allies and network

Call the Lab’s Technology Transfer office, and get names of appropriate people to talk to, as senior as possible. Start calling them. Have crisp “message” to leave with secretary or voicemail. Get secretary’s name. Explain reason for calling. Offer to send a letter/fax outlining the project (e.g. a stripped down version of the proposal), and send it if it’s wanted.

Ask about how tech transfer is accomplished, and by whom. Ask about overall lab organization, key issues, management style, etc.

(It’s also useful to call on the Public Information office, and ask for any publications that describe the overall lab program. Ask a number of different people about this. Also ask to be put on mailing lists.)

2. Expand the Network

As the organization begins to come into focus, identify key people in business development roles and in technical roles — people who are involved in making industry partnerships happen. Call them and get to know them. Keep good notes. Write down as much as possible during phone conversations.

Try to identify a main ally, as a point of contact, and who can sponsor or host a visit, and as someone who’ll begin to identify with the project.

3. Site Visits

Arrange to visit the lab, making no more than 5-6 appointments for one day. Sometimes an hour with someone isn’t nearly enough, but having a time limit does help focus the conversation. Scheduling can be difficult, both as to the day and times of day for individual appointments. A host can be very helpful in making arrangements. They may suggest group meetings, or offer a room where lab people can come to you. (This saves time getting around an unfamiliar campus, but it loses the advantage of visiting people in their offices, where serendipity can intervene in terms of picking up printed materials and meeting people.)

The purpose should be billed as a get-acquainted session, with overviews of programs relating to energy (directly or indirectly), and brief descriptions of the lab’s technology that’s ripe for codevelopment and/or tech transfer.

It is wise to set aside time to review notes and do some follow-up immediately after the visit.
This first visit will invariably open up more areas for investigation, and identify more contacts to make. Telephone calls and perhaps one or two more site visits may be called for.

By now, the relevant opportunities will have begun to emerge, and a few specific areas will have been identified. Focus on these for planning the Utility site visit, where the utility personnel come to the lab for a perhaps more formal set of meetings, including overviews of both the lab and the utility (for the benefit of the lab), and specific topics of interest that have been identified.

4. Making Deals

Know in advance what kinds of business deals are real options for the Utility. Understand what the objectives are. The lab will need to have a sense that the utility is a bonafide industry partner prospect, and not just a curious observer, though they shouldn’t expect to know the utility’s bargaining position or business interests in any detail at the outset.

General Comments:
* People in general are very interested and willing to tell you about their work. It’s human nature, but in the case of researchers, they’re even more glad to do it. It’s important to establish trust, be honest about your intentions and about how much you do or don’t understand of what they’re telling you. Try diplomatically to guide them to the level of technical detail that’s appropriate to what you need to know (in order to evaluate whether to dig deeper). Probe behind the claims. Ask about specifics of performance and cost estimates, and how they were obtained.

* In this iterative process of trying to become a little bit acquainted with a large complex bureaucratic organization, respect the unique culture, recognize the pressures on people, and avoid getting drawn in to local politics.

* Take lots of notes, and begin documenting right at the start.

0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply