OSTP and NEC RFI on Commercialization of University Research

May 13, 2010

Re: OSTP and NEC RFI on “Commercialization of University Research”

Via NEC_General@who.eop.gov

To Whom it May Concern:

The Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) appreciates the opportunity to comment on the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and the National Economic Council (NEC) request for information on “Commercialization of University Research,” which was published in the Federal Register on March 25, 2010. IFT is a nonprofit international, scientific society with more than 18,000 members working in food science, food technology, and related professions in industry, academia, and government. Founded in 1939, IFT exists for the purpose of advancing the science of food with a long-range vision of ensuring a safe and abundant food supply contributing to healthier people everywhere.
Scientific and technological innovations realized through basic research and development conducted by universities and other entities are fundamental to our mission. IFT commends President Obama’s national innovation strategy that is designed to promote sustainable growth and create quality jobs, in part through support for fundamental research and effective commercialization of promising technology. IFT’s strategic plan includes the following roles and goals: (1) champion research in food and emerging sciences to foster technology development, application, and transfer; (2) increase funding for food-related research; and (3) support innovation in food science and technology. IFT’s strategic plan is very much in alignment with President Obama’s national innovation strategy.

IFT offers below specific comments on the first section of the request for information (RFI), including responses to the questions presented in the RFI.

What are some promising practices and successful models for fostering commercialization and diffusion of university research? What is the evidence that these approaches are successful? How could these promising practices be more widely adopted?

There are several promising practices and models for fostering commercialization and diffusion of university research. Bridging the gap between innovators and entrepreneurs is a key practice for successful transition of research innovations into commerce. This can be achieved through provision of interactive forums in which researchers showcase their cutting edge research and innovations while entrepreneurs identify potential solutions to their challenges. The forums also enable researchers to learn current trends in their field and gain a better understanding of industry needs.

For more than 70 years, IFT has played the role of bringing together food scientists and food industry business partners in various forums, including the world’s largest food expo, as well as a variety of conferences, workshops, and research summits where information is shared and connections forged that advance innovation in food science and technology and related disciplines. IFT’s success has centered on the valuable participation of both research innovators and entrepreneurs.

Intellectual property (IP) acquisition and management are also important in commercialization of research innovations. Great technologies can only be realized when their IP is well managed and exposed. Universities and other research institutions need to promote their mechanisms for managing IP. This has been achieved in some institutions through establishment of technology licensing offices that handle legal and business issues related to IP. The offices handle information such as type of IP to pursue, invention disclosure, identification of IP that is worthy of protection, and licensing and/or sale of IP.

Additional efforts are needed to enable IP exchange between inventors and potential users to enhance commercialization. Many institutions have IP rights that could be sold and/or licensed to other stakeholders while commercial businesses are seeking new and innovative solutions for their challenges. Cognizant of such a need in the food industry, IFT introduced last year an IP exchange forum (IPEx) at our Annual Meeting and Food Expo. The successful connection of innovators and entrepreneurs at the forum prompted an expanded IPEX forum that will take place during IFT’s 2010 Annual Meeting and Food Expo in Chicago, Illinois.

Another promising practice for technology commercialization is the establishment of technology transfer mechanisms, such as offices or centers in research institutions. These offices offer technical support for scientists to maximize impact of their innovations. The centers utilize pilot facilities for testing and scaling up the promising technologies before commercialization. An exceptional model for such a center in food manufacturing is the Food Venture Center at Cornell University, which has the goal of providing comprehensive assistance to food entrepreneurs to promote economic development in rural communities. Many research institutions still lack these types of mechanisms, however, thus jeopardizing commercial application of promising technologies.

A successful model for transfer of promising innovations into commerce has been public – private sector partnerships such as university – industry partnerships. Such partnerships help facilitate cost-efficient transition from scientific innovation to large scale production processes through closely knit working relationships within the research and development phase. Examples of this type of partnership are:

1.National Center for Electron Beam Food Processing at Texas A&M University, in partnership with Titan Corporation (http://www.tamu.edu/ebeam/index.html),
2. National Center for Food Safety and Technology at the Illinois Institute of Technology, in partnership with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the food industry (http://www.iit.edu/ncfst/), and 2
IFT Comments on Commercialization of University Research
3.The National Science Foundation Centers for Advanced Processing and Packaging Studies at Ohio State University, North Carolina State University, and University of California – Davis (http://www.nsf.gov/eng/iip/iucrc/directory/capps.jsp).

These types of partnerships have been successful in many other fields, such as medicine and engineering. Establishment of new and augmentation of existing public-private sector partnerships is strongly encouraged.
It is worth noting that some of the best examples of government, academia, and industry working together to fund research and education and see it through to commercialization, particularly in the area of food research, may not be necessarily found in the United States. Exploring the best practices for other regions of the world such as Europe, Australia, New Zealand, and Israel that are advanced in these public-private partnerships is encouraged. Further, IFT advocates for increased funding for food research and education by the Federal government and the private industry.

The aforementioned practices and models apply to many areas of scientific research; however, additional actions are needed for new and emerging scientific fields such as nanotechnology. There is a need to establish national and/or regional technical support facilities for universities and companies doing research in such highly specialized areas. For example, safety and toxicological research is needed to assure safety and to serve as a backbone for proper regulation of emerging technologies. This research can be prohibitively expensive for individual institutions or smaller companies to conduct on their own. Establishing central research laboratories with a mandate to support the researchers would serve to bridge this gap. A good example is the Nanotechnology Characterization Laboratory of the National Cancer Institute, which serves as a technical resource and knowledge base for all cancer researchers. The goal of the laboratory is to facilitate the regulatory review of nanotechnologies intended for cancer therapeutics and diagnostics thus accelerating their clinical applications.

Overall, IFT urges the Federal government to encourage and fund more land-grant universities to set up commercialization centers to encourage scale-up of new technologies.

What are appropriate metrics for evaluating the success or failure of initiatives to promote commercialization of university research?

The metrics for evaluating success of initiatives include: number of disclosures obtained (by discipline, etc.), plant releases, utility patents, plant patents, utility licenses, plant licenses, royalties, and startups.

What changes in public policy and research funding should the Obama Administration consider that would promote commercialization of university research? How could existing programs be modified or augmented to encourage commercialization of university research?

There are several programs already in existence that can be augmented to further advance successful transfer of promising technologies into commerce as discussed below.

The Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grants for entrepreneurs have had significant impact in meeting the research and development needs of the Federal government. An expanded scope of the grants with a prerequisite for entrepreneurs to collaborate with universities and other research institutions would further bolster the impact. Furthermore, establishment of a similar grant for individual researchers would encourage university scientists and other innovators to press their innovations into commerce.

As previously mentioned, public-private sector partnerships are successful models for commercialization of technologies; thus, increased public support and funding for university – industry partnerships is encouraged. With government funding, more “transition” centers could be created to help shepherd technologies from the research institutions to the private sector. This is a huge opportunity in many industries. For food manufacturing industry, something as simple as funding a Thermal Process Authority in a technology transfer center would be very productive for potential new food manufacturers.

Increased investment/funding for basic and transitional research is especially needed in the new and emerging science and technology arena (e.g., biotechnology and nanotechnology), where safety testing, standardization, pilot testing and scale-up is highly important. IFT commends the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology on the recent recommendation, in a report to the President and Congress, to increase investment in product commercialization and technology transfer in the field in nanotechnology.

Unavailability of technical expertise is deemed a potential threat to the development and commercialization of technologies, particularly in the new and emerging science and technology arena. Increased educational funding is needed in institutions of higher learning to develop programs for emerging science fields. This funding would help increase the number of assistantships and fellowships in universities. Furthermore, continued investment in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) at the K-12 level is particularly important.

Please contact Betty Bugusu, Research Scientist, if IFT may provide further assistance. She can be reached at 1025 Connecticut Avenue, NW, Suite 503, Washington, DC 20036; phone: 202-330-4980; or email address: bbugusu@ift.org.

Marianne Gillette
IFT President

President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology [PCAST] 2010. Report to the President and Congress on the Third Assessment of the National Nanotechnology Initiative. http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/microsites/ostp/pcast-nano-report.pdf

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