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NREL Helps DOE Promote Cutting Edge Technology

May 4, 2010

Technology seekers know that finding that new "aha" technology can be like finding a proverbial needle in a haystack, especially considering that there have been more than 7 million U.S. patents granted covering everything from ordering online with a mouse click (patent owned by Amazon.com) to Samuel Hopkins' method for improving the production of potash, which was the first U.S. patent signed by President George Washington.

Today's technology seekers interested in breakthroughs in renewable energy and energy efficiency can leverage a new Web site to quickly access patents and patent applications developed by U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) laboratories and other research institutions funded by DOE.

DOE's National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) developed the Energy Innovation Portal for DOE's Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy (EERE). Through streamlined searching, the portal whittles down the more than 7 million patents and patent applications at the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) to a more manageable 14,000   all funded by the Department of Energy.

The idea for the Energy Innovation Portal came about as The Alliance for Sustainable Energy was bidding on a contract to manage NREL for DOE. "DOE said if you want to run NREL, tell us what are you going to do that's new and innovative when it comes to commercializing technologies," Vice President of Commercialization and Tech Transfer Bill Farris said. "There is a lot of science and technology going on at NREL and other national labs, but to have the maximum market impact you need to be able to move those technologies out of the lab."

"DOE funds billions of dollars in research and you can't find all of that technology advertised and described in one place," Senior Vice President for Commercialization & Deployment Casey Porto added. "The Alliance felt that this was something we needed to take on, if we were going to tout 'commercialization' as a key differentiator for NREL. Fortunately, DOE/EERE quickly embraced the idea and provided funding, so that the project could be fast tracked."

Focus on Available Clean Energy Technology

The Energy Innovation Portal gathers patent data by tapping into the USPTO database and searching the millions of entries for anything funded by DOE. Content administrators from NREL or any of the other participating national labs, using a simple content management system, can then add marketing summaries to help businesses interested in licensing the technology understand its potential uses.

"A patent is a legal document written from a legal perspective — what we wanted to do was create and include the marketing summaries written by the labs that tout the technology features, potential applications in the market, advantages, diagrams, and contact info," Technology Commercialization Program Manager Matt Ringer said. "You won't see one of these summaries for every patent; rather we wanted the laboratories to be able to highlight the technologies they wanted to focus on, so that technologies seekers could find them."

Portal users can:

  • Search thousands of clean energy related patents available for licensing as well as patent applications
  • Browse marketing summaries of clean energy technologies available for licensing organized into 14 technology areas
  • Identify the total number of patents and technology marketing summaries contained on the site
  • Sign up for e-mail updates
  • Link directly to the DOE laboratories that developed the available technologies to get more information.

"You want to maintain each lab's identity and ability to market their own technologies, licensing and do their own business," Ringer said. "But there is a tremendous amount of value in being able to go to one place to find the information you are looking for. That's what the portal gives all participants — focused searches on clean energy technologies, the ability to look at new technologies created through DOE funding, and licensable from the owners."

Future Enhancements in the Works

From concept to launch, the Energy Innovation Portal came about quickly. The beta version was tested in May 2009 and a final version with a Web-friendly interface launched in February.

EERE Energy Innovation Portal participating labs:

  • National Renewable Energy Laboratory
  • Argonne National Laboratory
  • Brookhaven National Laboratory
  • Idaho National Laboratory
  • Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
  • Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory
  • Los Alamos National Laboratory
  • Oak Ridge National Laboratory
  • Pacific Northwest National Laboratory
  • Sandia National Laboratories

"Because of the enthusiasm this portal has generated we will be looking to grow the site features," Ringer said. "The main goal is to enhance the marketing summaries, to help EERE broadly market technologies they have created."

Other features under consideration include:

  • Social media features that would allow networking and interaction between technology managers
  • Expanding the data to include other federal agencies that are researching clean energy, such as EPA and NASA.
  • Ways for technology seekers to find complementary technologies for licensing

"The ultimate success is when a technology seeker creates a 'bundle' where he takes technology from two different labs and creates a product," Ringer said. "We're looking forward to making that happen."

Visit the EERE Energy Innovation Portal or contact portal managers via the Web site at http://techportal.eere.energy.gov/contact.do.

— Heather Lammers