ECBC Transitions Technology to Warfighter, First Responders
Contact sports are hard-hitting. The competition elevates the intensity of the game, builds pressure to execute a plan and heightens the risk associated with decision-making during time-sensitive moments. These characteristics are the reasons why sports resemble business: the outcome makes an impact. But unlike sports, instead of having only one winner, the U.S. Army Edgewood Chemical Biological Center is seeking mutual collaboration among the federal government, private industry and academia in partnerships that benefit all players. ECBC is looking for the win-win when providing lifecycle science, engineering and operations solutions to counter chemical and biological threats to U.S. forces and the nation.
“ECBC’s team of experienced scientists, engineers and technicians routinely develop and refine new and innovative technologies that have a variety of real world applications. ECBC offers a broad range of CB services and the use of its cutting-edge facilities through our technology transfer program,” says Suzanne Milchling, director of the Directorate of Program Integration at ECBC.
The Technology Transfer (T2) Office at ECBC, which is located at Aberdeen Proving Ground, provides partnerships and incentives for industry, academia and other government agencies to collaborate with the chem-bio research center in a mutually beneficial way.
“ECBC maintains a posture of wanting to be partners with industry, and we’re willing to invest time in exploring mutually beneficial relationships,” says Blake Sajonia, a technology transfer professional who works with ECBC as well as other Department of Defense laboratories. “What are our common interests? What can we work on together? There is no set way of finding these opportunities. It’s a contact sport, so you have to go around and bump into people.”
Through the intentional communication of knowledge, expertise, facilities and equipment, ECBC generates revenue streams from its research, development and engineering services as well as by commercializing its technology with private sector funding. To achieve this, there are several ways technology can be transitioned: spin-off, spin-on and dual-use development. According to Sajonia, a DoD technology that is developed with federal funds for a government public purpose can be spun off to the private sector in order to help U.S. industry be more competitive in the international marketplace. Conversely, the latest technology developed by industry can be spun on to further national security and government purposes. Dual-use science and technology development can have both defense and non-defense applications.
Principal T2 mechanisms include cooperative research and development agreements, patent license agreements and technology support agreements, as well as agreements with other government agencies such as interagency agreements, memorandum of agreement and memorandum of understanding. These mechanisms enable ECBC, industry and federal partners to leverage their expertise and resources in order to reduce the time it takes to field a product to the end user- the Warfighter.
“We have to respond quickly because in 20 years, the problems have changed,” Sajonia says. “Industry has the speed and agility to pursue opportunities as they emerge, and we have the R&D infrastructure to support comprehensive projects. It’s a really nice marriage that allows us to do more with less because of the synergy there, and to have that responsiveness that allows us to get proven solutions in the hands of the Warfighter faster.”
“Our focus is to know what industry is looking for and industry’s main focus is to see what the government is looking for. These partnerships reduce the duplication of efforts and spending money, and also promote many small businesses to be bold in America – a lot of small businesses take part in technology transfer agreements with ECBC. We have the unique capability with one-of-a-kind laboratories and technologies to safely and securely test prototypes against chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosive material,” says Parekh.
Since then, ECBC and these organizations have collaborated through a patent license agreement, cooperative research and development agreement and partnership intermediary. Such T2 mechanisms utilized ECBC expertise and facilities with industry technology to further develop the original TAC-BIO prototype into a next generation detector that is weatherproof and uses advanced detection algorithms to reduce false alarms.
“A network of TAC-BIOs could work as an early detection system against a biological attack,” says Aime Goad, ECBC engineer. “The TAC-BIO is so light and affordable that units can be sent into the field for troops to place on vehicles in forward units.”
In addition to the Warfighter, first responders and hospitals may someday be the end-users as a result of this technology transfer. It would enable them to treat a person suffering from an unknown illness in their ambulance or emergency room with the help of a TAC-BIO II detector that could alert emergency personnel to don personnel protective equipment to prevent exposure while treating the patient. The detectors could also be used in school systems to alert students, teachers and faculty to a potential threat and give them enough time to seek a safe place outside of a dangerous environment.
Innovative technologies such as TAC-BIO II have helped the U.S. Army for the first time become one of the Top 100 Global Innovators in 2012, as recognized by Thomson Reuters, for its significant investment in innovative efforts strongly focused on natural security. Thomson Reuters utilized a set of four criteria: Success, patents awarded vs. patent applications; Global, the number of inventions that have quadrilateral patents (from the U.S., European, Japanese and Chinese patent offices); Influence, the numbers of times a patent or invention was cited over the last five years; and Volume, organizations that had 100 or more innovative patents in the last three years.
In 2012, ECBC was awarded 20 patents; 16 of those were awarded to scientists in ECBC’s Research & Technology Directorate. R&T scientists and researchers continue to be recognized for groundbreaking research in fields such as decontamination, chemical and biological agent detection and the safe handling of chemical agents. In total, the U.S. Army had 436 published inventions, with 327 awarded with a patent. Strong contributors to this number were named the “Top 20 Inventors for the U.S. Army 2009-2011,” featuring two of ECBC’s own: Jose-Luis Sagripanti, Ph.D., Senior Research Scientist for Biochemistry, and George Wagner, Ph.D., a member of the CB Protection and Decontamination Division. During that time, Sagripanti received seven patents, and Wagner received five.
“We’re not necessarily seeking quantity in terms of the number of agreements but the quality of those agreements where there is a return of investment for all parties,” says Donna Cannella, ECBC requirement specialist. “Tech transfer mechanisms allow us and our partners to meet challenges and achieve mutually-beneficial goals through taking a project from the concept phase to project start and completion.”
The expertise of scientists and engineers at ECBC continue to support the Army’s position as a leader in global chemical and biological defense; however, there have been plenty of challenges for the Center to remain innovative in a DoD climate that has seen sequestration, budget cuts and furloughs. A restriction in travel for government employees has limited the number of times ECBC can connect with potential partners, reducing the in-person opportunities significantly.
“With sequestration, one of the ways we remain connected with companies is through webinars hosted by the FLC for Technology Transfer. Instead of seeing them at conferences, we were able to utilize the webinars as a way to seek new business opportunities. As a result, we’ve had interactions with a handful of potential partners,” says Amanda Yocum, acting business manager for ECBC’s Business Management and Integration Office, under which T2 operations run.
According to Yocum, ECBC subject matter experts are vital in acquiring and maintaining those relationships. By aligning common interests, ECBC is able to maintain a proactive process that embraces the ideas of the teams within the Center, and supports the experience and creativity that’s there to find an agreement that is mutually beneficial for all involved.
“We continue to seek those opportunities with businesses who might be interested in partnering and linking up those common objectives to make the magic happen between the inventors or teams. The Technology Transfer Office continues to be the catalyst in that process,” Yocum says.
Technology transfer is not a zero-sum game. It is a contact sport that produces multiple winners. With budget constraints and limited marketing opportunities, it is easy for one to take a defensive stance that preserves what is already intact. But that has never been ECBC’s posture. The Center remains on the offensive, pursuing partnerships with industry, academia and other government agencies to cover more ground in new landscapes. ECBC has adapted to the changes in the Defense environment to secure new opportunities, and like any winning team, acknowledges the teamwork necessary to provide innovative CB solutions that keep the Warfighter and the homeland safe.
For more information about ECBC’s Technology Transfer Offer, please visit: