Supporting a robust program of technology transfer often requires a number of revenue streams. UT-Battelle funds a portion of technology transfer activities using annual royalties derived from the sale of commercial products developed from ORNL patents.
UT-Battelle allocates 20 percent of royalty revenues to the purchase of equipment and the support for special projects and initiatives that promote technology transfer. In addition, approximately 15 percent goes to staff inventors and 35 percent to technology maturation funds to help make new inventions licensable. The remainder supports economic development and special awards created by UT-Battelle for "key contributors," people who are not inventors but who substantively contribute to the success of ORNL technologies through their work as attorneys, commercialization managers, patent agents or researchers.
"We have made substantial capital investments in research equipment using royalty revenues," says Alex Fischer, director of ORNL's Technology Transfer and Economic Development office. "Proposals are reviewed and approved by the Special Projects Committee consisting of ORNL's deputy director for science and technology, our associate laboratory directors and me. They propose special projects that usually require the purchase of new instruments. We make our decisions partly on our assessment that research using this equipment will likely increase ORNL-industry interactions that could lead to commercialization of our technologies."
Since 2004 ORNL has used more than $1.1 million in royalty revenues to purchase a variety of research equipment that boosted the Laboratory's commercialization opportunities. Among the strategic purchases was $350,000 for a high-performance mass spectrometer used to characterize complex biological samples and $330,000 to provide genotyping and expression analysis equipment.
One of ORNL's most promising inventions is hybrid solar lighting, which can reduce utility costs by capturing sunlight and providing high-quality lighting for commercial facilities. With an investment of $120,000 in royalty fees, hybrid solar lighting technology will be installed on the roof of the Laboratory's newest research facility. A computer-controlled combination of natural and artificial lighting will be provided to the offices on the top floor. If successful, the project should stimulate commercial interest in the ORNL technology.
In just a few years, reinvestment of royalty revenues has proved to be a valuable tool in ORNL's technology transfer toolkit.
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