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SPAWAR transfers tech to commercial markets

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Not every piece of technology developed initially for the Department of Defense ends up being used by the armed forces exclusively.

The technology transfer program at the Navy’s Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command (SPAWAR) allows private companies to share in license agreements to put its technology to commercial use.

"Our main mission is to satisfy the needs of the warfighter, but we think there's some other huge benefits that can be received from the work we're doing with trying to maximize the opportunities to move our technology out of the lab and onto the markets," said Stephen Leiberman, director of the technology transfer office at SPAWAR Systems Center Pacific.

SPAWAR averages 30 patents a year, ranking it consistently fifth or sixth on the list of San Diego region companies that patent the most new inventions.

The program has other internal benefits as well, said Jim Fallin, a spokesman for SPAWAR Systems Center Pacific.

"We see our technology transfer program as part of our culture," said Fallin. "It attracts engineers and helps them explore new innovations."

The program has a royalty sharing policy with inventors, but Fallin said inventors who see their products used in new ways can bring new levels of employee satisfaction as a secondary benefit.

When the Department of Defense decides some of these patents may be better used in the commercial sector, SPAWAR Systems Center Pacific Office of Technology Transfer begins to create awareness about possible license agreements through its corporate Web site, quarterly newsletters, booths at trade shows and its Facebook page.

Lieberman said SPAWAR collaborates with local industry groups like the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association (AFCEA), CommNexus and the National Defense Industrial Association (NDIA) to get the word out.

Most of the time, smaller companies are interested in the license agreements, said Lieberman.

"Entrepreneurs tend to be the risk takers," he said.

After a company shows interest in a patented product, SPAWAR asks the company to create a commercialization plan complete with projected sales revenue. Once the company completes that step, the two sides can negotiate the agreement.

Typically, there are two types of agreements: exclusive and non-exclusive. While most companies want exclusive rights to a license agreement, SPAWAR prefers non-exclusive agreements to get the technology to more companies.

Sometimes the technology finds its way back to the DoD. Most of the time, it is because a company has improved the technology for military use and sells it back.

However, there is a clause that allows SPAWAR to recall the license agreement if there was an extremely urgent need.

For example, Fallin said if there was a major anthrax threat and SPAWAR had a license agreement with a company dealing with an anthrax antidote, the government would likely revote the license agreement from the business that received it.

Fallin said it would be "very, very rare" for the government to take back the technology in that manner.

He also said SPAWAR does not specialize in developing technology of that kind.

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