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Tech Transfer Today

The Federal Technology Transfer Act (FTTA) of 1986 was designed to ensure that discoveries made in federal research laboratories would be efficiently and routinely made available to commercial interests for further development. At NIH, the Office of Technology Transfer (OTT), a division of the Office of the Director, is charged with carrying out the FTTA mandate. Headed by Maria Freire, the OTT has overseen a nearly threefold growth in the transfer of NIH technologies to the private sector in the last five years. In 1997, 119 patents were issued for NIH discoveries, and findings entered the commercial domain through 208 granted licenses and 153 Cooperative Research and Development Agreements (CRADAs). NIH royalties for last year totaled more than $35 million.

Although NIH inventors receive royalty payments if their findings translate into a commercial success, instances in which a researcher can "run with" a discovery are, according to OTT’s Ted Roumel, "rather rare." For a researcher to launch a commercial venture based on findings made in an NIH lab, NIH would have to waive licensing rights back to the inventor. Such instances are likely to arise only when there is a lack of any commercial interest in the technology–making a foray into the entrepreneurial realm decidedly less appealing to an inventor.

Given the current technology-hungry climate of the biotechnology industry and an OTT now eager to feed it, Michael Zasloff’s experience is perhaps unlikely to be reproduced by any of today’s NIH researchers. But for those who desire to see their ideas turned into reality, the possibilities for doing so are greater now than they ever were. If your results lead you to wonder "what if?" speak to your Institute’s Technology Development Coordinator (see <http://www.nih.gov/od/ott/tdc.htm> for listings) about how to proceed. You might see your findings made real without ever leaving campus, while keeping the "sharks" at a safe distance–unless, of course, like Michael Zasloff, you happen to be using them in your research. –D.L.

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