Last week, a bipartisan coalition in the House of Representatives voted in favor of HR 5120, the Department of Energy Laboratory Modernization and Technology Transfer Act of 2014. The Act, which seeks to reform the United States’ existing national laboratories system, focuses on improving the transmission of research and scientific findings from federal labs into the private sector and facilitating public-private partnerships between researchers and business entrepreneurs. Based, in part, on the Center for Clean Energy Innovation’s (CEEI) recent policy report on the state of the national lab system entitled Turning the Page, the House’s version of the Act would introduce a number of reforms. It would:
- Empower directors of the National Laboratories to enter into agreements (funding, or otherwise) with non-Federal entities regarding lab usage.
- Delegate “signature authority” to National Laboratory directors regarding cooperative research and development agreements costing less than $1,000,000, including public-private partnerships for commercialization.
- Allow directors to carry out early-stage and pre-commercial technology demonstration activities to remove technology barriers that limit private sector interest and demonstrate potential commercial applications of any research and technologies arising from National Laboratory activities.
Over the past week, support for the Lab Modernization Act came from members of both parties, including bill co-sponsors Rep. Randy Hultgren (R-IL) and Rep. Derek Kilmer (D-WA). “This bill will ensure,” said Hultgren, “that discoveries made in our national labs do not get stuck there.” Kilmer added: “This legislation makes it easier for entrepreneurs and business leaders to harness [national laboratory] research so start-ups with one or two employees can grow into companies that create hundreds of quality jobs.”
The Act awaits passage of the America INNOVATES Act (S. 1973), the Senate’s companion bill introduced earlier this year by Senators Chris Coons (D-DE) and Marco Rubio (R-FL).