Commentary: Energy Sec. Chu's idea for national labs might boost economy

The Department of Energy has a new program designed to help its national laboratories do just what they should: Foster startup companies.

So far, the record for transferring technology from the lab to commercial enterprises is less than stellar. Only about 10 percent of federal patents have been licensed to be commercialized.

Energy Secretary Steven Chu thinks our national labs can do better. We agree.

In what might be the world's first sale on brain power, the program will allow new companies to purchase an option to license technologies developed at the lab for $1,000.

Previously, the average fees for one to three patents in a portfolio were $10,000 to $50,000. And that money was due upfront.

That's a big burden to shoulder for a startup company with lofty goals but little cash. Being able to license technologies developed at labs like Richland's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory will give innovators and investors a head start toward success.

Lots of startups fail. But the ones that succeed change the world in ways large and small.

DOE will also be trimming the paperwork required in its "America's Next Top Energy Innovator" program. It may not sound as enticing as America's Next Top Model, but in this case the results will actually matter.

DOE is simplifying the licensing process for applicants and has about 15,000 unlicensed patents and patent applications that can be claimed by startup companies.

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