Research Policy – Technology Transfer from National/Federal Labs and (Non-University) Research Insti

Starts:  Oct 1, 2020 12:00 AM (ET)
Ends:  Oct 31, 2020 11:59 PM (ET)
Associated with  Entrepreneurship (ENT)
Call for Papers for a Special Issue of Research Policy on:
Technology Transfer from National/Federal Labs and (Non-University) Research Institutes:  Managerial and Policy Implications

Guest Editors- Donald Siegel (Arizona State University), Maryann Feldman (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill), P. Devereaux Jennings (University of Alberta), Xue Lan (Tsinghua University), Mike Wright (Imperial College London), and Marcel Bogers (University of Copenhagen)
Lead Research Policy Editor-Martin Kenney (University of California at Davis)

While there are numerous studies of university technology transfer (Grimaldi et al., 2011; Link, Siegel, and Wright, 2015; Mowery et al., 2001; Perkmann et al., 2013), there are few recent studies of technology transfer at national/federal labs and (non-university) research institutes (e.g., Bozeman and Crow, 1991; Crow and Bozeman, 1998; Rahm et al., 1998; Jaffe and Lerner, 2001; Adams, Chiang, and Jensen, 2002). That is unfortunate because these research organizations are an important component of national innovation systems. For example, the R&D expenditures of federal labs in California (which has 48 federal labs, including six major labs: Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, Lawrence Livermore National Lab, Sandia National Labs, Stanford Linear Accelerator Center, Ames Research Center, and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory) consistently exceed those for the entire University of California system (Windham, 2006). In 2016, U.S. universities received approximately $38 billion from the federal government to conduct research, while federal or national labs received approximately $42 billion (National Science Board, 2018). In France, the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS), which has 10 research institutes, receives about 80% of all public funds for R&D.  In Germany, Max Planck Institutes, Hemholtz Centers, and Fraunhofer Institutes also receive a substantial share of public funds for R&D.  The Chinese Academy of Sciences oversees some 120 research institutes, including all of China's "big science" facilities. In 2018, China announced that its 200 national key laboratories will increase to around 700 by the end of 2020.

Like universities, labs and research institutes have a technology transfer mission. In 1980, (the same year the Bayh-Dole Act was enacted), the U.S. Congress adopted the Stevenson-Wydler Act, which sought to streamline technology transfer from federal laboratories to industry and mandated that labs establish technology transfer offices. In 1986, Congress passed the Federal Technology Transfer Act, which provided direct financial incentives for scientists at federal labs to patent, and it also established Cooperative Research and Development Agreements (CRADAs) between firms and federal labs (Mowery, 2003). In 2000, the Technology Transfer Commercialization Act was passed, which made it easier and more attractive for companies to patent and/or license a technology that was developed at a federal lab (e.g., commercialization resulting from a CRADA). Similar laws were enacted in other OECD nations that were designed stimulate technology transfer at public sector, non-university research institutions.   In 2015, China substantially revised its law on promotion of commercialization of S&T results (PRC, 2015), which gave substantial leeway to public research institutions and universities to manage and profit from the commercialization process.
OECD nations have also adopted additional programs to support commercialization of research at such facilities. For example, in Germany, the Helmholtz Association of German Research Centers, established in 1995 to formalize existing relationships between 19 globally-renowned independent research centers, has sponsored several technology transfer initiatives.  These includes Helmholtz Innovation Labs (for partnerships with industry), as well as three initiatives to fund and nurture startups and help them overcome the "valley of death": the Hemholtz Validation Fund, a Proof-of-Concept Initiative, and Hemholtz Enterprise. In the U.S., the Department of Energy (DOE), which manages many of the nation's largest federal labs, recently launched two initiatives to enhance commercialization and entrepreneurship associated with federal lab research: Lab Corps (DOE's version of NSF's I-Corps Program), which provides entrepreneurial training for faculty, graduate students, and post-docs and the Small Business Vouchers Pilot project, which provides special financial support for small businesses that have not traditionally worked with federal labs. Despite substantial global investment in national/federal labs and (non-university) research institutes, as well as legislative reforms and new programs in many nations to stimulate commercialization and entrepreneurship, there has been little systematic academic analysis of the antecedents and consequences of technology transfer at these institutions.

Thus, it is timely to publish a special issue on these topics in Research Policy, which has published seminal papers on technology transfer in other contexts. We believe that an assessment of institutional and public policies, as well as managerial practices at the facilities, can yield new theoretical and empirical insights on technology transfer. It is also important to analyze how technology transfer at federal/national labs and research institutes may differ from university technology transfer.  The proposed special issue seeks to bring together papers that address these issues from a variety of perspectives and at multiple levels of analysis. Some themes that papers in the proposed special issue might address are:
  • How should we measure and evaluate technology transfer output and performance (e.g., patenting, licensing) at federal/national lab and research institutes? How does that compare with private industry and universities? Are existing metrics of technology transfer sufficient in the federal lab context, or should we attempt to develop new metrics?  How do these measures account for the fact that technology transfer need not be uni-directional? How might modern tech transfer from labs, given complex ecosystems, federal policies, commercial interests, and new techniques, be theorized?
  • What roles do incentives, environmental, managerial, cultural, and institutional factors (structure and reporting relationships) play in enabling technology transfer and explaining differences in performance?  What national and regional policies facilitate better tech transfer practice from federal and non-university labs? Are there particular policy translation mechanisms that might improve the success of federal and non-university labs tech transfer? Are there others to avoid?
  • Is "bypassing" the technology transfer office prevalent, and if so, how and why is such "informal" technology transfer accomplished by scientists at these facilities?  How does the mobility of research scientists affect scientific productivity and commercialization? How effective are entrepreneurial initiatives at these facilities?  Are leadership and championing behavior on the part of lab managers relevant to technology transfer performance, and if so, how? Are other organizational behavior factors relevant to technology transfer in labs and research institutes? What is the role of open innovation?
  • How does research at federal/national labs and research institutes affect industrial research? How has technology transfer changed the nature of research in federal/national labs? How has technology transfer changed the relationships between federal/national labs and industry? How does technology transfer activity affect individual (scientist) productivity?  How has technology transfer contributed to changes in the nature of national innovation systems?
  • Has technology transfer involving federal/national labs been more effective in some sectors than others? How does technology transfer at federal/national labs and research institutes differ from university technology transfer? How do labs and research institutes formulate and implement technology commercialization strategies?  What is the appropriate intellectual property regime for these institutions (e.g., open innovation)?
Both quantitative and qualitative papers are welcome. 

Editorial Process
The editorial process will consist of three stages. In the first stage, papers will be sent for double-blind review to three reviewers. Authors whose papers receive a revise and re-submit will be invited to a special developmental workshop organized by the Guest Editors, which will be held at the Arizona State University Barrett & O'Connor Washington Center in Washington, D.C.  Funding has been provided for this workshop, which will allow us to pay for accommodation and meals for one author and assigned discussants for each paper. Authors would then be invited to revise and resubmit their papers based on the reviewers' comments and comments from workshop participants. The papers will be reviewed again externally, with final decisions made in the third and final stage.
Time Frame for the Special Issue



Solicitation of  papers

October 2019

Deadline for submissions

End of October 2020

First round external reviews process

November 2020-February 2021

Authors receiving a request to revise and re-submit also notified of acceptance to the special issue workshop

March 2021

Special issue workshop

Late May 2021 at the Arizona State University Barrett & O'Connor Washington Center in Washington, D.C. see

Submission of revised papers

August 2021

Second round external reviews

September 2021

Delivery to Research Policy

January 2022