News | Aug 21, 2018

Why your business should develop inventions from defense labs

Sage advice from Dr. Will Swearingen, TechLink's executive director and 20-year veteran of federal technology transfer

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A scientist prepares lab samples inside the Enterics Department at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research on July 25, 2018. WRAIR is the largest and most diverse biomedical research laboratory in the Department of Defense.

Michael Walters/DoD

The Department of Defense (DoD) is the largest sponsor of federally funded research in the United States.

The president’s fiscal year 2019 budget request for DoD research, development, testing, and evaluation totals $91 billion. The majority of this funding goes to defense contractors, universities, and independent research centers. But around $17 billion is retained by DoD for “intramural” research within its own facilities.

That budget funds about 65 DoD laboratories and research centers across the nation. The thousands of scientists and engineers working in them produce 700-800 patented inventions every year.

Many of these inventions have been prototyped and are ready to be turned into commercial products. And the inventions are often very practical, designed to solve important real-world problems.

In my 20-plus years in federal technology transfer, our center, TechLink, has transferred over 1,000 DoD patented inventions to industry for conversion into new products.

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Truston Technologies, a small business in Maryland, licensed the Navy's patented port security barrier fence shown here. Truston’s global military and commercial sales of the port security barriers have since topped $85 million.

courtesy photo

What is technology transfer?

Like all federal government agencies, the DoD is required by congressional mandate to attempt the transfer of its inventions to industry partners as a way to benefit the American economy. This process is known as technology transfer.

Plus, the DoD is motivated to transfer many of its inventions to businesses because it wants to buy innovative new products based on those inventions and the technological advantages they provide to national security.

Furthermore, the military is not trying to make a profit. Unlike private industry, where licensing is regarded as a profit center, the Department of Defense is much more interested in finding capable companies of all sizes that can manufacture and sell its patented inventions, and as such, DoD patent license agreements include financial terms that are negotiable and quite reasonable.

In 2016, select DoD laboratories began offering patent license agreements through an express licensing option developed with TechLink and accessible through the TechLink website. With pre-negotiated agreements and up-front financial terms, express licensing makes it much easier for companies to license DoD technologies and turn them into new products. The licensing process has taken as little as three weeks.

Licensing DoD technology gives companies access to cutting-edge inventions from the world’s largest R&D organization and is much faster and less risky than trying to develop new technology in-house.

Developing DoD inventions is often lucrative.

In 2015, TechLink conducted a study of the nationwide economic impacts of DoD technology license agreements with 602 U.S. companies reporting on 663 license agreements between 2000 and 2014. In total, the companies reported $20.4 billion in direct sales of products based on the DoD inventions.

Notably, 178 license agreements generated sales of at least $1 million.

Licensing technology from DoD labs has never been easier. TechLink, the Department of Defense’s national partnership intermediary for technology transfer, provides businesses with no-cost licensing assistance and maintains the only web-accessible database of available technologies.

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About the author

Dr. Will Swearingen was a member of TechLink’s founding team in 1996 and has played a key role in transforming TechLink into a nationally recognized center. He has a doctorate in geography and over 25 years of experience directing technology transfer and R&D programs. He is a Certified Licensing Professional and can be reached by email at wds@montana.edu.