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Commerce’s NIST Announces Actions to Stimulate Commercialization of Federally Funded R&D

cover of draft green paper
Credit: N. Hanacek/NIST

GAITHERSBURG, Md.— The United States spends more than any other nation on research and development (R&D) each year, investing over $150 billion in federally funded R&D alone. In line with President Donald J. Trump’s Management Agenda, the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) today released a draft green paper detailing steps to modernize the U.S. system of technology transfer and innovation for the 21st century. The actions outlined in the green paper would help maximize returns on the taxpayer investment in R&D. 

“Countless innovations crucial to our everyday lives, including life-saving vaccines, the Internet and GPS, can trace their roots to federal laboratories and federally funded R&D,” said Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross. “The steps outlined in this new report are strong proposals to pave the way for the competition-driven technological advances that are the cornerstone of American success.” 

“Implementing these actions would increase the impact of federal R&D investment through agile partnerships that can create tremendous value for our society and economy,” said Under Secretary of Commerce for Standards and Technology and NIST Director Walter G. Copan. “For example, granting reliable and predictable intellectual property rights for licensing and commercial development of federal research will also encourage innovation and more private sector investment in R&D.” 

The draft green paper was developed based on broad inputs from the public in response to a Request for Information published in the Federal Register, public meetings and multiple stakeholder engagement sessions, and extensive review of prior reports and studies related to federal R&D technology transfer. The green paper also incorporates input from key federal stakeholders, including the National Science and Technology Council’s (NSTC) Lab-to-Market Subcommittee.  

The green paper is a discussion document, not a policy commitment or decision by the federal government. Implementation of actions that require specific policy, legislative or regulatory changes will be advanced through the appropriate formal process, including interagency review and public comment.

Modernizing the Technology Transfer System

Much of the legal architecture around technology transfer is based on two transformational pieces of legislation from the 1980s: the Stevenson-Wydler Technology Innovation Act and the Bayh-Dole Act. The legislation provides clarity of intellectual property ownership and incentivizes the commercial development of federal R&D. NIST’s green paper is an important step toward modernizing the technology transfer system to meet America’s economic and national security needs for the 21st century. 

To ensure America stays on the cutting edge of technological development, this green paper lays out actions aligned with the five strategies outlined in the Lab-To-Market Cross Agency Priority (CAP) Goal of the President’s Management Agenda: 1) identifying regulatory impediments and administrative improvements; 2) increasing engagement with private sector experts and investors; 3) building a more entrepreneurial R&D workforce; 4) supporting innovative tools and services for technology transfer; and 5) improving understanding of global science and technology.

1 – Reducing Regulatory and Administrative Burdens

The draft green paper outlines changes to “make it easier for industry to work with Federal Laboratories and access federally funded R&D.” It highlights the importance of defining the scope of the “government use license” and “march-in rights,” which allow the federal government to use an invention for broadly defined purposes and to grant additional licenses if the original nonfederal inventor or licensee fails to develop the invention for public benefit, respectively. The report also outlines steps to clarify requirements for the domestic manufacture of products resulting from federal R&D. 

2 – Increasing Private Sector Engagement

The draft paper identifies actions to make the technology transfer process easier to navigate by promoting the use of best practices and establishing government-wide consistency in the interpretation of legislation. To attract private investment and speed technology transfer, the paper outlines an action to authorize new and expanded mechanisms for creating partnership agreements and nonprofit foundations that support federal agencies. The paper also outlines a plan to allow the limited use of R&D funding for intellectual property protection.

3 – Entrepreneurship In R&D

Further inculcating the idea of entrepreneurship within the federal government, the green paper proposes establishing technology entrepreneurship programs at federal R&D agencies. The paper outlines plans to clarify and update conflict of interest requirements to stimulate greater partnering between the private sector and researchers at federal laboratories and federally funded universities. 

4 – New Tech Transfer Tools

The green paper outlines plans to develop a modern, easy-to-use federal intellectual property (IP) data reporting system to more effectively track IP and streamline regulations. Hand in hand with this effort, a new data portal would provide the public with easy access to the IP and other R&D assets, enabling greater private sector awareness of the universe of federally funded knowledge, capabilities and facilities. 

5 – Measuring Effectiveness

Ensuring the best return on investment for federal research funds requires better measures of the outcomes and impacts from those R&D investments. The green paper highlights the need to complete an “authoritative analysis … of metrics for federally funded R&D that can be used to capture, assess, and improve R&D outcomes and impacts.”  

The draft green paper, Return on Investment Initiative for Unleashing American Innovation, public comments received in response to the Request for Information, and background information about the initiative are available on the NIST website. NIST will consider additional feedback on the green paper, received by January 9, 2019, via roi [at] (roi[at]nist[dot]gov). A final version is expected in early 2019.

NIST has responsibility for promoting federal technology transfer efforts, including government-wide policy coordination and promulgation of regulations, co-leading the Lab-to-Market CAP Goal in the President’s Management Agenda with the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, serving as host agency for the Federal Laboratory Consortium for Technology Transfer, leading NSTC’s Lab-to-Market Subcommittee and the Interagency Workgroup on Technology Transfer, and reporting annually to the president and Congress on technology transfer across federal agencies.   

NIST promotes U.S. innovation and industrial competitiveness by advancing measurement science, standards and technology in ways that enhance economic security and improve our quality of life. NIST is a nonregulatory agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce. To learn more about NIST, visit

Released December 6, 2018, Updated February 22, 2021