Intellectual Property: Federal Agency Efforts in Transferring and Reporting New Technology

GAO-03-47 Published: Oct 31, 2002. Publicly Released: Oct 31, 2002.
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The federal government is a primary sponsor of research conducted in the United States, expending during fiscal year 2001 $19.4 billion for research performed by federal employees and $62.2 billion for research conducted under contracts and grants. Some of this research leads to the development of technology that can be patented, licensed, and made available to the public through the introduction of new products and processes. In the past, however, there have been concerns that new technologies developed under federal research projects were not being properly translated into practical use. In response, Congress has made attempts through legislation over the past two decades to ensure that federally sponsored inventions were being transferred to the private sector where they could be commercialized. Federal agencies are identifying, patenting, and licensing inventions created in their own facilities through technology transfer programs that vary in design, approach, and measurable output. With respect to design, some agencies have centralized technology transfer programs, while others have decentralized programs, and still others have components of both. From an approach stand point, the agencies differ on what they will patent and the types of licensing arrangements they will enter. Perhaps the greatest diversity among the agencies is in their output based on statistics provided by the nine federal agencies with internal research budgets of at least $500 million in fiscal year 2001. In total, these agencies reported 3,676 new inventions, 1,585 patents issued, and $74.5 million in licensing revenues during fiscal year 2001. Federal agencies did not fully comply with the requirement of the Technology Transfer Commercialization Act of 2000 that they submit reports on their technology transfer activities to the Office of Management and Budget and the Department of Commerce as a part of their fiscal year 2003 budget requests. Although four of five agencies reviewed for GAO's 1999 report have taken some steps to improve contractor and grantee compliance with reporting requirements under the Bayh-Dole Act, these efforts have not addressed underlying problems--such as duplication in reporting requirements--GAO noted in that report. Agency officials said that they had not been able to standardize, improve, and streamline the reporting process itself because, as GAO noted in the 1999 report, this would require congressional action.

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Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of Commerce The Secretary of Commerce should revise the guidelines issued to agencies for use in preparing the annual reports to be submitted to the Office of Management and Budget and Commerce as required by the Technology Transfer Commercialization Act of 2000. The guidelines should clarify the precise data elements to be included in each of the statistical categories, thereby improving the level of precision in and comparability of the agency reports.
Closed – Implemented
In December 2002, the Department of Commerce revised its guidelines for the forthcoming calendar year 2002-03 reporting cycle. In doing so, Commerce stated that there were some places where clarifications or other improvements in the data guidelines were needed, particularly with regard to licensing activities.
Office of Management and Budget The Director of the Office of Management and Budget should develop procedures for accumulating and considering, as a part of the annual budget process, data submitted by federal agencies in the annual reports on technology transfer required by the Technology Transfer Commercialization Act of 2000.
Closed – Implemented
In July 2003, OMB included the procedures and guidelines for reporting technology transfer data that federal agencies use to prepare their annual budget in Circular A-11.

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