A model for moving technology from laboratory to market
Researchers at 300 federal laboratories across the country spend more than $100 billion annually to patent new technology and science. Despite so much effort—and so much taxpayer expense—the process often stalls.
Why? “Because communication often doesn’t occur with the entities that can license, fund, and commercialize their work,” UT Arlington Provost Ron Elsenbaumer says. “Often, even for clearly useful patents, it can take five to 15 years from research to commercialization, with nine years being typical.”
Now a collaboration between UT Arlington and the Arlington Chamber of Commerce called TechComm promises a model that will foster collaboration between research-oriented universities and technology-focused economic entities. It also could add the magic ingredient—venture capital—while dramatically reducing the time from patent to commercialization. TechComm is the technology transfer component of the Center for Innovation, a high-tech business accelerator operated jointly by UT Arlington and the Arlington Chamber.
Shekar Rao, TechComm’s vice president and chief technology officer, recognizes that the idea of accelerating commercialization of federal research is both new and complex. But he offers a simplification: “The idea is to put together deal flows.”
The possibilities are endless. Perhaps innovations in medical device development. Or a way to package and sell highly compressed natural gas in safe, cost-efficient ways.
TechComm has agreements with the National Institutes of Health, Defense Department, Homeland Security Department, Agriculture Department, Transportation Department, National Institute of Standards and Technology, and National Aeronautics and Space Administration, representing 300 federal labs with almost 20,000 patented technologies.
“Relatively few patents are actually licensed and commercialized,” Dr. Elsenbaumer says. “Our model will be capable of actually moving technologies from federal labs to the marketplace in a replicable way.”
The word “replicable” is important because TechComm may serve as a national model for technology transfer.
“HISTORICALLY, RESEARCH RESULTING IN TECHNOLOGY INNOVATION HAS BEEN THE PRIMARY DRIVER OF ECONOMIC GROWTH AND DEVELOPMENT.”
“TechComm is quite likely the prototype for the future,” Rao says. “There’s a secondary economic development trend as well. We’re already being approached by companies interested in relocating to this area to have access to both UT Arlington and these federal technology patents.”
Wes Jurey, president and chief executive officer of the Arlington Chamber and chairman of TechComm, predicts the program will create high-paying jobs.
“Historically, research resulting in technology innovation has been the primary driver of economic growth and development,” Jurey says. “TechComm represents an opportunity for the Center for Innovation to serve as a catalyst and innovator for technology-led economic development in North Texas.”
UT Arlington President James D. Spaniolo says TechComm also provides incentives to further enhance University research.
“Strong research programs are part of what makes a great university, and this partnership certainly provides even more opportunity to strengthen UT Arlington’s research profile,” he says. “World-class faculty and their graduate students are creating and refining technologies that will fuel the economy for generations to come. TechComm will be an important link in moving those innovations to the marketplace.”
Spaniolo and Elsenbaumer believe UT Arlington researchers will be asked to further refine existing patents moving toward commercialization.
The one-stop shop that TechComm represents, including the ability to find venture capital investors and manufacturers, makes the entity unique, says Paul Huleatt, managing director of Development Capital Networks, a TechComm subcontractor charged with providing finance and capital formation expertise.
“Access to deal flow is the Holy Grail for technology commercialization,” Huleatt says. “By serving as a partnership intermediary for key federal agencies, TechComm opens the door to research opportunities between businesses and universities and then can commercialize government-developed technologies.”