Senior Scientist Forum to Target Innovation, 'Homegrown' Technologies
As part of an effort to spur the development of new product ideas among scientists across the U.S. Army Medical Research and Development Command, USAMRDC leadership will host a Senior Scientist Forum on February 24. The event, which is the first of its kind to be held at MRDC, is designed to reinvigorate an aspect of the command's portfolio which has slowed in recent years; the ultimate goal being to license more of MRDC's in-house discoveries and inventions for the eventual benefit of both the Warfighter and the command.
"This meeting is a call to action for our senior scientists," says Barry Datlof, chief of business development and commercialization at MRDC's Office of Research and Technology Applications/Medical Technology Transfer. "Our nutshell issue, across the entirety of the U.S government, is that patenting new technologies has not kept pace with universities or industry, and so we're falling behind in developing our own solutions via in-house – or homegrown – innovation."
Underpinning this effort is a twin-pronged desire to both aid the health and resilience of the Warfighter while also buttressing the scientific base that provides that support. By developing new and unique medical products and technologies – specifically those select few with commercial appeal – MRDC scientists can then, through a dedicated process, eventually secure patents for said products. Once that occurs, the stage is set for corporate entities to step into the process and push the product into the marketplace.
"If an invention has commercial value, then a company can license it and take it to the product stage," says ORTA/MTT Director Paul Michaels, Ph.D. "Companies want those types of products because normally they know if the military created the invention, they will in turn buy the product for military use and, in addition, those companies can then sell the product – or a similar product – on the commercial market." According to Michaels, this process ultimately benefits MRDC. "We not only make a small return – called royalties – on the invention that we license," he says, "but we eventually put that money back into MRDC research."
The quest for more homegrown products has its roots in congressional legislation from more than 40 years ago. In 1980, the passage of the Bayh-Dole Act allowed government contractors, including those at universities across the U.S., to own the inventions they developed via federally-funded research. Patent applications for new products developed at universities skyrocketed shortly thereafter, jumping from nearly 40 thousand applications per year to upwards of 180 thousand per year currently. That spike in patents, however, occurred almost entirely outside of the federal government, with the amount of applications from government entities staying constant for most of that time.
"Probably the single biggest misconception in our field is that if you have a great idea, you'll have a great product," says Datlof, noting the state of the industry marketplace and its perpetual thirst for innovative products. "In biomedicine, perhaps more so than in any other field, the capital requirements are so high that investors will go elsewhere if there's not intellectual property that provides them a competitive advantage in that marketplace."
From ORTA's perspective, potential roadblocks to the desired level of creativity may include the rather serpentine application process for government scientists who ultimately develop a new invention, product or technology. To combat this, meeting organizers plan to suggest switching from the current multi-page invention application packet and moving instead to a leaner one-page application process. This will be just one of several suggestions targeting the early stages of innovation, which includes the processes of discovery, evaluation of a given technology and intellectual property protection.
"We're going to have to push hard on multiple fronts to get new and innovative technology to the Warfighter," says Datlof. "When people feel like it's their duty, they're more likely to extend those efforts to their organization."
The upcoming Senior Scientist Forum is scheduled for February 24 at Fort Detrick, and will feature representatives from ORTA/MTT, the Office of the Staff Judge Advocate and the Principal Assistant for Research and Technology, as well senior leaders from all subordinate MRDC labs. Organizers hope to hold three additional quarterly meetings focusing on, among other items, the processes behind the marketing and eventual licensure of new technologies.