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Assistive Technology Transfer Update


Title: Technology Transfer in Federal Laboratories
Author: C Dan Brand
Published: 2003
Publication: Assistive Technology Transfer Update: Vol. 5 (Spring) Annual Report, 2001-2002

Dr. Dan Brand, Chair of the FLC from 1996-2001, explained that the FLC leadership identified a cluster of strategic technology focus areas - including Assistive Technology -- to encourage technology transfer in these fields. However, no formal mechanisms were installed to facilitate work in these areas. More importantly, sponsoring agencies and laboratory managers have not explicitly endorsed or internalized these FLC's priorities, which limits their impact. The promotional activities inherent in the FLC's mission, appear to be running ahead of the Lab's internal culture. According to Dr. Brand, there is an operational disconnect between Lab Directors, the ORTA staff, and the staff scientists/engineers. The Federal Laboratory Consortium sends technology requests to the ORTA's, but the ORTA's may not brief the Lab Directors on requests, and may not actively disseminate the request to the staff scientists/engineers. Preparing requests in the language of the scientists and engineers, then submitting them to the Lab Director may result in more active dissemination, but only if the Lab Director sees benefit and understands the request to represent a national need.

A national call for advanced technologies to improve existing assistive products in 2000, illustrated that the persistent barriers are organizational rather than technological. Federal Labs submitted relatively few technologies, none addressed the need, yet all contained the boilerplate information characteristic of ORTA technology summaries. In contrast, small business spin-offs from Labs submitted technologies that were focused and directly relevant to the described need. Lab entrepreneurs appear to be using the private sector as a pathway to commercialize promising technologies nurtured by their developers. While essentially fulfilling the FLC's stated purpose, the route taken falls outside the FLC's framework and therefore does not provide them with due credit or future returns.

Issues facing the Federal Laboratory Consortium are:

  • Establishing protocols for sharing information and expertise with small to medium sized industries, such as the Defense Technical Information Center, the FLC's Locator Network, and information on commercial technology requirements.
  • Developing mission statements and mechanisms within Labs supporting the FLC's strategic technology focus areas.
  • Establishing incentives and rewards for Federal Lab employees who successfully accomplish technology transfer in these focus areas.
  • Justifying a brokering role outside the primary mission of Labs, which is currently being supplanted by spin-off enterprises.

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