Sylvia Jacobs is a writer for American Technology Solutions International (ATSI), a contractor for the Department of Navy Technology Transfer Program Office.
Recent legislation that improves access to the Naval Technology Transfer or “T2” program provides opportunities for small businesses to improve their SBIR/STTR technologies by taking advantage of world-class expertise and facilities at Naval laboratories. Much of the research, development, test and evaluation at Navy and Marine Corps laboratories involves leading-edge technologies in a wide array of technical disciplines with potential for commercial applications. Moreover, the equipment and facilities available to test this research are often unique and cannot be replicated in the commercial workplace. SBIR/STTR awardees are often unaware of their ability to access T2 technologies.
The federal T2 program has been in place since the mid-1980s. Its purpose is to facilitate the transfer of federally developed technologies to the private sector as well as academic institutions and state or local governments. Navy and non- Navy partners (including small businesses) can work together on mutually beneficial research through the DON T2 program using legal instruments called “cooperative research and development agreements” or CRADAs. CRADAs are an essential T2 partnering tool, and small businesses can easily learn how to use CRADAs, with help from the Naval T2 Program Office.
One legislative change is particularly relevant to CRADA use: in 2014, the Small Business Administration (SBA) SBIR Policy Directive amended its policy regarding the use of SBIR funds with a CRADA by no longer requiring a waiver. Per Section 9(e)(5) of the Policy Directive, “an agency may issue an SBIR funding agreement to a small business concern that intends to enter into an agreement with a Federal laboratory to perform portions of the award or has entered into a cooperative research and development agreement (see 15 U.S.C. § 3710a(d)) with a Federal laboratory…” Restrictions are listed in Section 9(e)(5)(i) to (vi).
Partners working through a CRADA may contribute personnel, services and property. Navy and Marine Corps labs cannot contribute funds to the effort, however. One advantage for a small business is that it may receive a license for any inventions made during the performance of the CRADA effort. Moreover, any data generated under the CRADA may be protected from public discussion for up to five years. The process for entering into a CRADA with a Naval lab begins by contacting the DON T2 Program Office at [email protected]. Detailed information about facilities and expertise at Navy labs or who to contact about entering into a CRADA, can also be found at https://flcbusiness.federallabs.org/#/.
The Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) uses Phase I and Phase II SBIR funds to support collaborative research through CRADAs. In both FY15 and FY16, SBIR-funded CRADAs represented approximately 20% of new CRADAs in each of those years. This represents a great partnership opportunity that is being leveraged by NRL in support of the small business community.
Small businesses working under a Phase I or II contract are now able under a CRADA to use a portion of their SBIR funding to access a Naval lab’s test and evaluation capabilities. As an example, through a Phase II SBIR award, Flex Force Enterprises is working on a line of stabilized weapon platforms that, if successful, will dramatically increase the accuracy of crew-served weapons. Recognizing that both Naval Warfare Surface Center (NSWC) Crane and Flex Force Enterprises have unique experience in the stabilized weapons platform field, the two organizations are utilizing a CRADA to work collaboratively to further develop the technology.
The CRADA allows for the exchange of information, intellectual property, guidance and ideas on how to provide improved accuracy of stabilized weapon platforms. The CRADA supports the Army’s Phase III SBIR for an agile, small-deflection, precision motion base (ASP) system development effort and Flex Force Enterprise’s commercialization of the core ASP technologies. Additionally, the CRADA provides benefit to NSWC Crane and the Dept. of the Navy by supporting efforts to test and evaluate stabilized mounts for use on various DoD combat platforms.
Another example of how a CRADA was used in conjunction with a Phase II SBIR grant recipient is provided by the Naval Medical Center in San Diego. The CRADA partners were the Naval laboratory and, a California- based small business. The small business used the facilities and expertise at the Naval Medical Center to advance the technology and develop a clinically useful tool that could benefit patients with amputations in gait training.
Another type of CRADA that small businesses can use is a limited-purpose CRADA. These are often used by Naval laboratories as a means to quickly collaborate with a non-Navy partner to exchange existing equipment or material when both parties have a mutual interest in the research outcome.
Leveraging SBIR with technology transfer can also prove beneficial to lab scientists and engineers interested in obtaining significant commercial and military benefits for their programs. Two engineers at NSWC Crane have leveraged several technology transfer tools with SBIR to successfully transfer ultrashort pulse lasers to military and commercial users. Ultrashort pulse lasers deliver electromagnetic pulses measured in femtoseconds, a time span so brief that the pulses alter the way light interacts with matter. One of the key attributes of these pulses is that, unlike conventional lasers, they produce no heat and do not damage the targeted material beyond the intended extent. This capability enables ultrashort pulse lasers to remove material more cleanly and precisely than ever before possible.
An education partnership agreement, a partnership intermediary agreement, and at least five CRADAs were established to help outside partners gain access to lasers and other specialized expertise, equipment, and facilities at NSWC Crane. These mechanisms were supported by nearly $16 million in more than 34 SBIR/STTR and other awards to support the work of small businesses engaged in the development, refinement, and commercialization of new ultrashort pulse laser applications. To date, this ongoing, multi-year technology transfer/SBIR activity has resulted in the start-up of two new businesses and the development of novel applications in both the commercial and military sectors.