Got $1,000?

Federal patent program encourages commercialization
By Holly Jessen | July 22, 2011

Want to take advantage of the more than 15,000 patents and patent applications held by the 17 national laboratories? A new program makes that easier and more attractive than ever.

In May, the U.S. DOE started offering a streamlined option agreement for a $1,000 fee through its “America’s Next Top Energy Innovator” challenge. When first announced, the DOE said that only about 10 percent of federal patents had been licensed to be commercialized. The department hopes the energy innovator challenge will double the amount of start-up companies coming out of national laboratory work. “America’s entrepreneurs and innovators are the best in the world,” said Secretary Steven Chu. “Today, we’re challenging them to create new businesses based on discoveries made by our world-leading national laboratories. Because we’ve cut the upfront fees and reduced the paperwork, we’ll make it easier for start-up companies to succeed and create the new jobs our economy needs. Our goal is simple: unleash America’s innovation machine and win the global race for the clean energy jobs of the future.”

The first such option agreement was awarded in late May to e-Chromic LLC, a Boulder, Colo.-based business, which plans to create a thin film material for windows that reflects sunlight.  Vice President Joe Biden visited the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colo., to make the announcement and highlight the energy innovation program. “Now, more than ever, America’s future competitiveness depends on our ability to innovate and our capacity to live up to our rich history of technological advancement,” Biden said. “This kind of public-private partnership fosters extraordinary innovation, allows brilliant ideas to develop, and gives businesses the tools they need to bring technology to the market.”

The patents available through the energy innovator challenge range from alternative fuels, vehicle technology and energy grid storage. Two examples of patents issued to NREL in 2011 include “Methods for degrading lignocellulosic materials” and “Genetically modified yeast species and fermentation processes using genetically modified yeast.”

—Holly Jessen

On the Web: Check out the 446 technology marketing summaries, 11,860 patents, 3672 patent applications and 27 emerging technologies at: http://techportal.eere.energy.gov