December 17, 2013    Volume 20, No. 16

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New DOD Pilot Program Is Aimed At Commercial Production Of Defense Laboratory Technologies

By Richard A. McCormack

The Department of Defense will soon be initiating a program aimed at turning technologies developed in military labs into commercial products. The House and Senate have agreed to a $5 million "Proof of Concept Commercialization Program" that will be run by the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering.

As described in the National Defense Authorization Act for 2014 that was approved by House and Senate negotiators on December 10, the Pentagon will make financial awards using a "competitive, merit-based process" that relies on a "rigorous, diverse review board comprised of experts in translational proof-of-concept research including industry, startup, venture capital, technical, financial and business experts and university technology transfer officials," according to Sec. 1603 of the authorization bill. Each award can be funded with up to $500,000.

Funding will be made to "qualifying institutions," which are described as being "non-profit institutions" that are required to have an "established and proven technology transfer of commercialization office" or those that "can assemble a project management board comprised of industry, startup, venture capital, technical, financial and business experts; or that has an intellectual property rights strategy or office." Awards will only be made to those organizations that can demonstrate "a plan for sustainability beyond the duration of the funding from the award."

Once funding has been approved for a project, the Pentagon will require "validation milestones" based on the market feasibility of the technology or product. Congress wants a "simple reporting mechanism on program progress" along with a process "to reallocate funding from poor performing projects to those with more potential."

Funding can be used to evaluate the commercial potential of discoveries and technologies "including activities that contribute to determining a project's commercialization path including technical validations, market research, clarifying intellectual property rights and investigating commercial and business opportunities." But none of the grant money can be used for basic research, or to fund the acquisition of equipment or supplies "unrelated to commercialization activities."

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