Lab-Industry Partnerships Key to Future Technology Transfer Efforts

June 7, 1996

By Lynn Yarris, LCYarris@LBL.gov


Are partnerships between national laboratories and private industry dead? Not at Berkeley Lab. More than one hundred research projects are currently being funded in part through private industry, and prospects for future partnerships are encouraging.

Political rhetoric portraying partnerships between the national laboratories and private industry as "corporate welfare" creates the impression that there is little support in Congress for the concept. As with most news from Washington, the devil is in the detail.

"What we are seeing is a much more subtle message on the concept of public laboratory-private industry partnerships as a vehicle for technology transfer," says Cheryl Fragiadakis, head of Berkeley Lab's Technology Transfer Department. "There is strong Congressional opposition to federal funds being given directly to companies for the development of a technology. However, there is support on both sides of the aisle for partnerships between federally-funded labs and private industry when those partnerships yield mission-oriented results that benefit taxpayers."

What has emerged from the debate, according to Fragiadakis, is the idea of partnerships in which federal and private industry funds are combined for a common goal.

"Congress likes the idea of leveraging money for research," she says, "but they want the research to be done because there is a governmental as well as corporate need for it, and not just because some lab somewhere can do it."

Indicative of President Clinton's support for technology transfer through public-private partnerships is the $21.8 million he has requested in the FY97 budget for the ER-Laboratory Technology Research (ERLTR) program. This request is up from the $18.5 million appropriated in FY96 and provides funds for collaborative research and personnel exchanges. Historically, Berkeley Lab has received 16-20 percent of total ERLTR funding each year. Past projects have ranged in size from less than $100,000 to about $2 million.

There are several ways in which private companies can enter into partnerships with Berkeley Lab researchers. Some arrangements are quite formal, such as the Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA), and specify in writing the terms being agreed to by all participants. Others are less formal, such as the memorandum of understanding (MOU) or the technical assistance agreement (TAA), and may call only for an exchange of personnel.

Berkeley Lab's Tech Transfer Department can advise researchers on which partnership approach--CRADA, MOU, TAA, or other--would best serve their particular situation. The department also fills the role of matchmaker, finding the best fit between industry needs and Laboratory capabilities. To this end, a robust database containing the names of contacts for several thousand companies plus information on the technical needs of those companies is maintained.

Fragiadakis and her staff are well-suited for their matchmaking role. All of the key people have worked in private industry and many have technical backgrounds. Fragiadakis holds an undergraduate degree in chemical engineering and an MBA from UC Berkeley. She also spent 10 years with the Exxon Corporation. Glen Dahlbacka, who handles industrial program development, has a Ph.D. in physics and was VP of business development for Maxwell-Brobeck Laboratories. Marketing manager Bruce Davies is a former public relations/advertising executive whose clients included CBS, Chrysler, Sony, and IBM. Chris Kniel, manager of the ERLTR program, is a civil engineer who spent more than 20 years as a technical manager at the Bechtel Corporation. Viviana Wolinsky, who heads Tech Transfer's licensing operations, is a lawyer with an MBA who worked for Baker and MacKenzie, serving such clients as Borland, SAIC, and Hewlett Packard.

While the Technology Transfer Department has been successful in wooing funds from private industry and is continuing to introduce potential partners to the Laboratory, Fragiadakis cautions that, like many courtships, the process requires patience. Private companies have budgeting cycles too, and even a perfect match can be several years in the making. The all-important first step is getting to know one another.

"Our general experience has been that private industry has a low level of awareness of what Berkeley Lab can offer," she says. "However, each time when we bring in company reps they are bowled over by what they see."

Laboratory researchers can help by being willing to meet with company representatives who visit the Lab and by keeping in mind that they may have to talk with a number of representatives before a partnership is made. Once a partnership is formed, however, everybody--including the Laboratory community as a whole--benefits.

Deputy Lab Director Pier Oddone, to whom Fragiadakis reports, says he strongly supports partnerships with private industry.

"With strong partnerships we can further the goals of the Laboratory in research and also create a direct societal benefit," he says. "Partnerships are especially important in a world of fiscal austerity because they allow us to pool resources toward common research goals."

In its efforts to find alternative funding for research, Tech Transfer also markets and licenses Berkeley Lab-developed technology. This provides additional revenue.

Researchers interested in working with the Technology Transfer Department on partnerships or any other aspect of technology transfer may contact Fragiadakis at X6467 or CAFragiadakis@lbl.gov.