Benchmarking US Federal Labs: 2022 IP Generation Snapshot
US Federal Labs - much like the universities we covered in our last article - receive billions of dollars to conduct research and generate IP. Like universities, Federal Labs also face a number of hurdles to commercialize that IP. However, that is where the similarities end. While federal labs and universities are often grouped in the same bucket. there are fundamental differences in the two models that extend across technology transfer mechanisms, internal cultures, and even the subject matter and maturity level of their research.
As such, IP generation patterns at Government Labs provide a unique set of signals and have meaningful implications for the innovation economy.
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10 Biggest National Lab Bets of 2022
Electrification Drives IP Growth: In particular, IP generation related to thermal management (heat transfer) and charging for electric vehicles grew by more than 20%. Energy storage was relatively flat, but still accounted for over 5% of all Federal Lab IP generation in 2022.
Different flavors of Separation: National labs filed a record number of patents covering membranes and sorbents with applications in Carbon Capture, Hydrogen Production, Rare Earth Element (REE) Extraction, and Water Purification. While carbon capture accounted for the most patents, extraction of REEs experienced the highest growth.
The Losers: EO/IR Sensors, Semiconductors, and Power Generation experienced the most precipitous declines, although all three were still in the top ten for 2022 IP volume.
What about CHIPS and IRA Acts: Trying to reconcile declining IP production in semiconductors and power generation with increasing funding and focus from the Federal Government? This disconnect illustrates a challenge policymakers face - the reactive nature of R&D funding. Not only is there a gap between when a law is passed and when the mechanisms are developed to allocate funding to labs, but there is often an additional delay as awareness of those funding mechanisms propagates across the national lab landscape and PIs begin reorienting their research. From there, IP generation (and subsequent commercialization opportunities) tends to lag by at least a year.
So What: Investors and companies looking to commercialize Lab IP often assume that the programs like CHIPS or IRA will create immediate collaboration opportunities. While these programs certainly create an opportunity to shape emerging research, it is programs established a few years ago (such as the Agile Biofoundry Initiative) that create more actionable commercialization opportunities.
IP Centers of Gravity
Significant Drop in DoD Patenting: IP generation across the Air Force, Navy, and Army fell by nearly 46% from 2020 to 2022. While some of this can be attributed to Covid-related changes, IP generation across the entire Federal Lab landscape only dropped by 20% during that time period.
The decline in IP output was consistent across almost every technology area and across the three services, suggesting an evolving approach to patenting (or a shortage of patent attorneys) as opposed to changing technology priorities
One of the few technologies where DoD patent filings didn't decline...Semiconductors
Alignment with DOE Strategic Priorities Drives Growth: Both NREL and ORNL experienced strong growth in technology areas such as Additive Manufacturing, REE Extraction, Energy Storage, and Biosynthesis - all strategic priorities for DOE over the past five years.
NIST is Increasingly Active: NIST developed a strong portfolio around microfluidics, sensors, and quantum optics, primarily in support of its lab on a chip concept.
2022's Top (Research) Influencers
Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI): JBEI - a DOE funded lab that brings together researchers from LBNL, Sandia, LLNL, and multiple universities, has established itself as a center of excellence within DOE for Biosynthesis, with both John Gladden and Blake Simmons playing key roles
NIH continues to be a leader in innovative cancer therapies, including work by Steven Rosenberg on genetically modified lymphocytes.
AFRL Researchers drive DoD semiconductor innovation: Nicholas Gavin, as researcher at AFRL's Materials & Manufacturing Directorate led the Federal Lab IP generation in semiconductor materials and fabrication IP development.
Finding National Lab IP Commercialization Opportunities
Tradespace partners with national labs to power more efficient IP commercialization, and tracks thousands of commercialization opportunities. Interested in engaging with a lab? Check out our IP Marketplace and reach out directly at firstname.lastname@example.org
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