Wednesday, May 23, 2007

The interrelation of the NAS patent report and NASA

The underpinnings of the report A PATENT SYSTEM FOR THE 21ST CENTURY are rather interesting in being supported by a contract coming from NASA:

[The study "AERONAUTICS INNOVATION: NASA’S CHALLENGES AND OPPORTUNITIES" was supported by Contract # NASW-99037, Task Order #103 between the National Academy of Sciences and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the SAME contract which supported "A Patent System for the 21st Century", but the NASA study on aeronautics innovation does not mention the word "patent" once in the report.]

The Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate (ARMD) of the National Aeronautics and
Space Administration (NASA) seeks to create an environment that fosters the application of the results of its R&D program in advanced airframe, engine, emissions, air safety, and air traffic control technologies. Application of the technologies developed by NASA is dependent on a variety of government and private-sector clients or customers—the airframe and aircraft engine
industries, the military services, and the regulatory and operational arms of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). To help produce a more robust innovation climate, ARMD asked the National Academies’ Science, Technology, and Economic Policy (STEP) Board to identify from the private and public sectors practices, tools, and methodologies that could maximize NASA’s ability to influence innovation outcomes positively.

The National Academies assembled a committee composed of experts in private-sector
technology management, public policy and administration, and economics. Included were
people experienced not only in different areas of aeronautics technology development but also in information technology, optoelectronics, and materials. The committee organized two public workshops. Participants in the first workshop included experts from industry, government, and academia who discussed the application of modern innovation techniques to a broad range of entities. The second workshop focused more directly on the aviation sector. Participants included senior industry executives, academic experts and consultants, former high-level NASA and FAA officials, and representatives from the Air Force and the FAA-based interagency Joint
Planning and Development Office, charged with coordinating federal agency efforts to plan and implement a 21st century air traffic control system in the United States.

Committee members and staff also visited three of the NASA research establishments
engaged in aeronautics R&D: the Ames Research Center in California, the Glenn Research
Center in Ohio, and the Langley Research Center in Virginia. ARMD has direct administrative
responsibility for Glenn and Langley as well as the Dryden Research Center in California; Ames
was recently transferred to the NASA science program office. At each of the locations we
visited, we interviewed top center managers as well as R&D program and project managers.
These interviews were supplemented by in-person or telephone discussions with other
individuals knowledgeable about NASA and the aerospace industry. Of course, NASA
headquarters officials participated in the workshops and committee staff conferred with them
throughout the project.
The committee thoroughly reviewed the large volume of reports in the past few years on
the aerospace industry and government policies affecting it. These efforts ranged from broad
assessments of the future of the U.S. industry by government commissions and such private
organizations as the Aerospace Industries Association to technical evaluations of the quality of
NASA’s aeronautics program by committees assembled under the National Academies’
Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board. The reports conclude that the nation has pressing
economic and security needs in aviation ranging from meeting increasing international
competition in aircraft and engines to expanding air travel capacity while maintaining safety and
reducing adverse environmental impacts. In addressing these needs, NASA can play an
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Aeronautics Innovation: NASA's Challenges and Opportunities
important role that is not served by other parties. Previous National Academies’ reports have
found that NASA’s R&D portfolio generally exhibits high technical merit. Our committee
accepted this judgment, as we lacked the breadth of expertise to make an independent evaluation
of the technical merit of the agency’s activities. Finally, the committee reviewed the recent
budget history and personnel profile of the NASA aeronautics program, including congressional
testimony on the President’s FY 2006 budget request.
A vivid picture emerged from the workshops, center visits, consultations, literature
review, and budget analysis. Despite strong private-sector support for a broad and robust federal
government role in civil aeronautics technology development, Congress and recent
administrations have not come to terms on what are widely regarded as nationally important
NASA aeronautics missions and the level of resources needed to address them effectively and in
a timely fashion. On the contrary, the budget has declined steadily over a seven-year period. In
response, ARMD and its predecessors have attempted to do as much or more with less, spreading
resources too thinly to ensure their effectiveness and the application of the R&D results. This
has been a growing problem for several years, but it was brought home most forcefully by the
President’s FY 2006 request for a sharply reduced ARMD budget, forcing a radical scaling back
of the Vehicle Systems Program (VSP) R&D to pursue only a few of the technology
development activities in its portfolio. Furthermore, the administration’s out-year budget
projections to 2010 showed a 50 percent decrease in the aeronautics R&D budget and personnel
overall. Although arguably beyond our purview, these circumstances were too central to the
viability of NASA’s aeronautics program for our committee to ignore, even though they occurred
in the final stages of our deliberations.
As described in the report’s first chapter, the budget proposal exposed the lack of
agreement between government and the aeronautics community about the federal government’s
role in civilian aviation generally and NASA’s role in aviation technology in particular. Former
Associate Administrator Victor Lebacqz acknowledged as much in defending the President’s FY
2006 budget request before the House Science Committee in March 2005. He said that
currently there are two contending points of view. One, reflected in the reports described
earlier, is that the aviation sector is critically important to national welfare and merits
government support to ensure future growth and market share despite fierce international
competition. This implies an expansive public and private research and development program.
The other, reflected in the White House’s budget submission, is that as the aviation industry
approaches maturity and commoditization, the government can retrench and leave technology
development to the private sector. Interestingly, he neglected to mention the public good
objectives—mobility, safety, and environmental protection—served by NASA’s R&D
The proposed retrenchment had a galvanizing effect. In the FY 2006 Appropriations Act,
congressional appropriators rejected the proposed cut and restored the ARMD budget to its FY
2005 level or slightly above. At the same time, the authorizing committees secured passage of
the NASA Authorization Act (P.L. 109-155) calling on the administration to prepare a policy
statement on aeronautics as a basis for further discussion with Congress. Meanwhile, a new
NASA administrator and associate administrator withdrew the proposed scaling back of the VSP
program and set to work on a new plan for ARMD.
These are encouraging signs that a policy consensus could emerge and a potentially fatal
retrenchment be avoided. But in the near future there is unlikely to be a large infusion of new
resources. Given that the program will probably continue to operate in a highly resource-
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Aeronautics Innovation: NASA's Challenges and Opportunities
constrained environment, the first principle of modern innovation management is highly
relevant. It is that the highest priority projects need to be identified and the less important
projects winnowed out. Beyond that, best practices and techniques for NASA’s aeronautics
R&D management are needed in three areas—transition planning, financial management, and
personnel management. These are elaborated in Chapter 2 of the report. We think that these
principles and practices, if applied consistently to a more focused portfolio of activities, could
facilitate the implementation of NASA-developed technologies.
Our committee also heard suggestions for reorganization of the NASA aeronautics
program. These included the creation of an agency operating in the mode of the Defense
Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)—that is, an expert staff of managers outsourcing
projects to firms and universities. Another suggestion was to convert the research centers into
contractor-operated institutions, as in the Department of Energy. A third proposal was to raise
the stature and increase the independence of the aeronautics program within NASA, perhaps
along the lines of the FAA’s relationship to the Department of Transportation. Evaluating these
options was not our assigned task, although we observe some characteristics of DARPA that
raise questions about whether it is an appropriate model for NASA. In any case, we concluded
that they are distinctly secondary to the question of what the federal government’s role should be
in developing new technologies for the nation’s air transportation system. Failing to answer that
question puts the program on a glide path to irrelevance.

This volume has been reviewed in draft form by individuals chosen for their diverse
perspectives and technical expertise, in accordance with procedures approved by the National Academies’ Report Review Committee. The purpose of this independent review is to provide candid and critical comments that will assist the institution in making its published report as sound as possible and to ensure that the report meets institutional standards for objectivity, evidence, and responsiveness to the study charge.

***Separately -->

Note that this post includes the membership of the Board on Science, Technology, and Economic Policy [STEP] which includes Bronwyn Hall.

***Separately, recall -->

Evidence from Patents and Patent Citations on the Impact of NASA and Other Federal Labs on Commercial Innovation

* Adam B. Jaffe,
* Michael S. Fogarty &
* Bruce A. Banks

1Brandeis University, Graduate School of International Economics and Finance, Sachar International Center, Mailstop 021, Waltham, MA 02254-9110, USA and, 2Centre for Regional Economic Issues, 311 Wickenden, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, OH 44106,, 3Electro-Physics Branch, NASA Lewis Research Centre, 2100 Brookpark Rd, M/S 302-1, Cleveland, OH 44135,


Federal lab commercialization is explored: (1) by analyzing US government patents and (2) in a qualitative analysis of one NASA lab’s patents. Tests apply to three distinct sets of patents, 1963–94: NASA, all other US government, and a random sample of all US inventors’ patents. The federal patenting rate plummeted in the 1970s. Consistent with increasing commercialization, both NASA’s and other federal agencies’ rates recovered in the 1980s. The case study finds citations to be a valid but noisy measure of technology spillovers. Excluding ‘spurious’ cites, two-thirds of cites to patents of NASA-Lewis’ Electro-Physics Branch were evaluated as involving spillovers.


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