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Analyzing Federal Offices of Research and Technology Applications

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Credit: Pixabay

There are multiple agencies throughout the federal government with laboratories engaged in scientific and technical research. At each of these agencies is an office dedicated to commercializing technologies invented within these labs. These offices are known as Offices of Research and Technology Applications (ORTAs). The NIST Technology Partnerships Office (TPO) is one such ORTA.

TPO staff conducted an in-depth analysis of federal ORTAs and subsequently published a review of the current state of them that examined the characteristics of ORTAs. The paper that came from this may provide insight into how ORTAs influence the efficiency of technology transfer.

The primary purpose of federal ORTAs is to:

  • Assess their laboratories’ projects and technologies for potential commercial applications
  • Disseminate information to government and industry about federally owned or originated technologies, products, processes, and services
  • Cooperate with and assist organizations that link the research and development resources of the federal government to potential users in state and local governments and private industry
  • Provide technical assistance to state and local government officials and participate in programs designed to facilitate the transfer of federal technologies

To collect cross-sectional data from the federal ORTAs, TPO designed a survey which they distributed to multiple ORTAs across the country. Fifty-eight ORTAs responded to the survey, providing qualitative and quantitative data on federal ORTAs for fiscal year 2016.

First, TPO looked at the participants’ budgets. Across the board, 48% of ORTAs reported a budget of less than $1M per fiscal year and 21% reported a budget of greater than $3M per fiscal year. ORTAs with budgets of less than $1M reported organizational overhead as the most common funding source. ORTAs with budgets greater than $3M reported a superior office within the agency as the most common source.

Next, the survey looked at staffing levels, which provided insight into the labor input of the technology transfer process. TPO discovered that ORTAs with a budget of less than $1M reported a median of 2 full-time equivalents (FTEs); ORTAs with a budget between $1M and $3M reported a median of 7 FTEs; and ORTAs with a budget of more than $3M reported a median of 27 FTEs. TPO is using this data to determine correlations between staffing numbers and technology transfer outputs.

Additionally, through this survey, TPO was able to collect data on patent prosecution funding sources, patent filing sources, distribution of royalty income to inventors, recipients of remaining royalties, and ORTA involvement in cooperative research and development agreements.

Go here to read the full TPO paper

Released August 25, 2021