Has your organization’s Invention Machine stalled?

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Unhappy with the lack of inventions coming out of your R&D expenditures?  What to do next can be a complex issue.  Depending on the importance of inventions driving current and future business, re-starting the Invention Machine can be table stakes for many organizations and or careers.

Re-starting the Invention Machine within your organization can involve numerous challenges. We’ll explore a few popular choices for creating positive change in this blog post.  Check back as we will likely revisit this popular topic with additional thoughts and posts in the future.  Future reader comments are another excellent supplement to the original blog.

Often, management believes it is a leadership challenge.  Changing leadership tends to send a signal to the rank and file.  Unfortunately, often the message that each person hears isn’t the same message. This can lead to unclear objectives, actions, and sometimes fear.

Fear, when channeled, can be a motivator.  Imagine a new R&D leader coming into a role where the organization inventive pipeline has dried up.  A leadership mandate that he/she expects at least one inventive idea per: [group, employee, project, $1 million spend, etc.] can re-start inventive reporting.  This is useful, even if it is just to remind people about the reporting process and a refresher on how to execute the steps required.  It isn’t necessarily tied to great inventions as people will tend to report anything/everything to stay off the radar.

Fear is not a long-term solution, but rather a way to prime the pump for a re-start.  Motivation is the key to sustainable success to keep the Invention Machine churning.  People inherently are happier when they are contributing so it is important to develop a culture where they can contribute easily and then see the positive impact on them personally.

  • Does your organization push technology boundaries?
  • Do you “punish” risk takers when they aren’t successful?
  • Do you celebrate success?
  • What other aspects of your organization either impede or positively contribute to a culture where inventive attitudes flourish?

Imagine the shift in perspectives when that same new R&D leader who shifts from “I expect new ideas from everyone,” to “I will tangibly reward people who contribute inventions.”  This could take many forms including performance appraisals, promotions, recognition, restricted stock grants etc.

Other aspects of the culture change should be aimed at making the reporting process less cumbersome.

  • Do you have a defined process?
  • Is it simple and flexible?
  • Have employees been trained?

If you said “no” to any of these, it will be more difficult to achieve motivation goals.

Motivation can also be influenced by recognition and or reward programs.   Organizations who pride themselves on the number of annual patents (IBM is one example) give a great deal of weight to financial reward for patented inventions.  Recognition programs structured with some financial and other non-financial rewards are also prevalent though out most industries. A well-thought-out program usually recognizes new inventors and frequent contributors differently to provide proper stimulus for continued motivation.

Often the status quo is in the way of progress. Complacency, lack of time or direction, or a desire not to perturb the troops can inhibit change.  However, done properly change will improve morale (along with getting the Invention Machine supercharged).

Albert Einstein once said, “no problem can be solved from the same state of consciousness that created it.”  The Dawnbreaker team can help organizations struggling with these issues by providing a fresh and objective perspective. We have a data-driven process to identify critical change drivers that will be most effective within an organization. Contact us to kick off a discussion on jumpstarting your Invention Machine!

Posted December 17, 2018 by Jenny Servo, P.H. D 

Delays in the Release of the DOE SBIR Funding Opportunity Announcement can be a Bonus!

Raise your hand if you’ve ever been frustrated by the delay in the release of the Department of Energy (DOE) SBIR Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA). Your plan was to have as much time as possible to prepare a responsive proposal – so you signed up on the DOE Mailing List to be notified as soon as the topics were released. Well, the topics were released six weeks ago – but now the FOA for the FY19 Phase I Release 2 is delayed and the holiday season is almost upon us. But, don’t be alarmed. If you know what to do – this delay can really be to your benefit.

There’s a lot of excellent work that you can do between the release of the topics and the FOA.  With the right tools at your disposal, you can readily create a compelling Letter of Intent and get started with your planning – even in the absence of the current Funding Opportunity Announcement. So, let’s get started.  Download the Topics from the DOE SBIR FOA website, check out the Applicant Resources page and become familiar with the DOE SBIR/STTR Phase I Proposal Preparation site. We’ll walk through how to use these tools right now in this blog post. When we’re done you’ll know exactly how to make the best use of the time that you have available. Ready? Let’s dive in.

Five Steps to take advantage of the FOA delay

  • Download and Review the Topics document

DOE is one of the few agencies that releases its topics BEFORE the Funding Opportunity Announcement. Most agencies do it concurrently. However, irrespective of when a solicitation is released, it is always the topics that are the most important element of a solicitation. After all, your proposal is going to explain how you can meet the agency’s needs as expressed in the Topics. So spend time now reviewing the topics and making sure that you understand what the agency wants and whether or not you can deliver a solution. Often companies are more concerned about receiving funding to conduct research of interest to them…BUT in order to be responsive, you must understand what the agency is looking for and determine if you have the ability to deliver a solution. Learn how other successful companies have done this.

  • Check out the Webinar Topics Recordings

To make it easier for potential applicants to gain further insight into the topics, DOE also has a series of webinars, where the topic managers talk about their interests related to that topic. Although the recordings are usually two hours long, you can simply advance to the 3-5 minute section where the topic of interest to you is discussed. Check out the current webinars for Release 2. Often there is additional insight gleaned from listening to this presentation.

  • If you have more questions, contact the Topic Manager

Topic Managers names and email addresses are listed in the Topics document under each Topic and Subtopic. Don’t hesitate to reach out to the topic manager if you need further clarification regarding a topic. In order to provide a responsive proposal to a topic, it must truly fit with what they are looking for. Often small businesses are apprehensive about reaching out to someone in the federal government and don’t know how to handle themselves in this interaction. To help with this please see the Tutorial entitled “Should I Talk to the Topic Managers?”. Be sure to download the email template in the Tools section.

  • Start preparing the Letter of Intent (LOI)…… it’s not really a Letter…

One of the first things that you will have to prepare and submit to DOE is called a Letter of Intent(LOI). It is a very important document – in fact, if you do not submit the LOI on time, you will not be able to submit a proposal to DOE. Here’s the good thing – you don’t need to wait until the FOA is released before starting to work on the LOI.  DOE has already posted guidelines for the Letter of Intent on the Applicant Resources page. To see these guidelines, navigate to the section called “Preparing and Submitting a Phase I Letter of Intent” and download the guidelines AND the example. Also listen to the Tutorial on How to Prepare a Letter of Intent and download the template to serve as a guide.

  • Last, but not least register for the Portfolio Analysis and Management System (PAMS)

In order to submit the Letter of Intent to the Department of Energy, you must have registered for PAMS. You can access guidelines on how to register with PAMS on the Applicant Resources page – see the Quicklinks right at the top of the page. Also check out the various demos associated with the Tutorial “What are the Required Registrations?” So, do this now…all before the FOA is released.

Follow these five steps now, BEFORE the FOA is released and you will make great strides towards preparing a responsive application to the DOE SBIR Funding Opportunity Announcement. Don’t wait to do this – do this now! Use the delay in the release of the FOA as a bonus – giving you more time to understand the topic, register for PAMS, and prepare one or more compelling LOI.

Posted December 11, 2018 by Jenny Servo, PH.D

Government Accountability Office Reports on the Need for Additional Actions to Improve the Out-Licensing Processes for Federal Laboratory Patents


Multiple laws and regulations have directed federal agencies and laboratories to encourage commercial use of their inventions through many channels, including out-licensing patents to private sector companies that aim to commercialize products or services developed from the patented technology.[1]  However,  a 2013 Office of Science and Technology Policy report raised concerns that only a small portion of the inventions arising from government research have been commercialized by the private sector, and that the United States is potentially missing critical opportunities to improve the nation’s standard of living, create new jobs, maintain international competitiveness, and enhance the overall economy, among other things.[2]  In light of this report and others, Congress requested that the Government Accountability Office (GAO) “review agency practices for managing intellectual property developed at federal labs, with a particular focus on the licensing of patented inventions to non-federal parties.“[3]

For the purposes of this report, the GAO focused on the four federal agencies with the largest research and development (R&D) budgets – the Department of Defense (DoD), Department of Energy (DOE),  National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and, the National Institutes of Health (NIH).  Together, these agencies account for more than 90% of total federal R&D spending.   The review and resulting report “examined, for DOD, DOE, NASA, and NIH and their labs, (1) the challenges that federal labs face in patent licensing, steps taken to address those challenges, and the extent to which NIST has reported them and (2) the extent to which federal agencies and labs have information on processes, goals, and comparable licenses to guide establishing patent license financial terms.”[4] The performance audit lasted from June 2016 through June 2018.


GAO reviewed relevant literature, laws, and agency documents, including patent licenses from DoD, DOE, NASA and NIH, through 2014. They interviewed agency officials from these organizations as well as nine of their laboratories.  GAO also interviewed external stakeholders including academic researchers, partnership intermediaries, industry representatives, professional trade organizations and universities.[5]


The results of the GAO’s review of state of federal agency patent licensing efficacy is summarized below:[6]

  • Ensuring that researchers identify and disclose inventions is a government-wide challenge.
  • DOE, DOD, NASA, and NIH documentation does not consistently link establishing financial terms in patent licenses to the statutory goal of promoting commercial use.
  • Federal labs have varying amounts of information on comparable government licenses when establishing financial terms. However, there is no formal sharing of information on financial terms in patent licenses among federal labs.
  • To establish financial terms, DOD, DOE, NASA, and NIH labs rely on the expertise of their technology transfer staff and take a number of steps to build and share expertise but had limited documentation of their processes for establishing the financial terms of patent licenses.


GAO made seven recommendations to improve the out-licensing process of federal patents for commercialization by private industry.  They are:[7]

  • The Secretary of Commerce should instruct NIST to fully report the range of challenges in federal patent licensing, such as those outlined in this report, by, for example, leveraging its survey of practices at federal technology transfer offices, past FLC studies, and agency reports and including that information in its summary reports to Congress. (Recommendation 1) 
  • The Secretary of Commerce should instruct NIST to clarify the link between establishing patent license financial terms and the goal of promoting commercial use, through appropriate means, such as the upcoming rule-making process and updating relevant guidance. (Recommendation 2)
  • The Secretary of Commerce should instruct NIST to facilitate formal information sharing among the agencies to provide federal labs with information on financial terms in comparable patent licenses, as appropriate. (Recommendation 3)
  • The Secretary of Defense, Secretary of Energy, Administrator of NASA and the Director of the NIH should ensure that their respective agencies or its labs document processes for establishing license financial terms, while maintaining flexibility to tailor the specific financial terms of each license. (Recommendations 4 – 7)


The Secretary of Commerce agreed to implement Recommendations 1 – 3.  The Secretary of Defense agreed to implement Recommendation 4.  The Secretary of Energy agreed to implement Recommendation 5.  The Director of the NIH agreed to implement Recommendation 7.  The Administrator of NASA only partially agreed to implement Recommendation 6, noting the “complexity and nuances associated with negotiating licensing agreements, such as understanding the market for the technology and the risk involved” would make standardizing procedures difficult.[8]

Note, the entire report, entitled  Federal Research – Additional Actions Needed to Improve Licensing of Patented Laboratory Inventions (GAO-18-327) can be found at https://www.gao.gov/assets/700/692606.pdf

[1] These include the Stevenson-Wydler Act of 1980, the Bayh Dole Act of 1980 and the Federal Technology Transfer Act of 1986

[2] 3White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and the National Institutes of Health, White House Lab-to-Market Inter-Agency Summit: Recommendations from the National Expert Panel (Washington, D.C.: May 20, 2013). https://www.aau.edu/sites/default/files/AAU%20Files/Key%20Issues/Research%20Administration%20%26%20Regulation/WH-L2MSummit-Recommendations-FINAL-Aug-09-2013-2.pdf

[3]General Accountability Office, Federal Research, Additional Actions Needed to Improve Licensing of Patented Laboratory Inventions – GAO-18-327, page 4, June 2018. https://www.gao.gov/assets/700/692606.pdf

[4] General Accountability Office, page 4.

[5] ibid, page 5.

[6] Ibid, pages 33 and 34

[7] Ibid, pages 34 and 34

[8] Ibid. page 36

Posted December 11, 2018 by Rich Smerbeck