- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 3, 2003

Local government, corporate and academic leaders said yesterday they will look for ways to commercialize research from universities and government agencies, in an effort to emulate the economic boom seen near other research-heavy cities like Boston and Palo Alto, Calif.

In an effort to take full advantage of the billions of dollars pumped into universities and government agencies for technology research each year, members of the Potomac Conference, a gathering of more than 100 technology advocates, met for more than six hours yesterday.

Conference members outlined ways to create more partnerships between researchers and companies looking to sell and market tech products, and said they would form a task force to address the issue.

Discussion at the meeting downtown centered around three hourlong panel presentations moderated by several Potomac Conference members. It focused on one question: What needs to be done to turn the technology research being done at public agencies and universities into a better driver for the economy?

“Every study that I’ve read has shown this region has extraordinary assets,” said C.D. “Dan” Mote Jr., president of the University of Maryland at College Park and co-chairman of the Potomac Conference. “Our work force works in technology … this is the technology area. Most people in this room would agree we haven’t pulled all that together. We haven’t taken advantage of the asset base.”

The District, Maryland and Northern Virginia combined received more than $15 billion in federal money toward research and development last year, more than any other region in the country.

Much of that money has gone to the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, and many biotechnology companies along the Interstate 270 corridor in Montgomery and Frederick counties have taken advantage.

But, conference members said, the research and development money has not translated to economic success as well as in other research-heavy spots including the Boston suburb of Cambridge, Mass., home of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University, and Palo Alto near Stanford University.

Specifically, conference participants said there is little or no incentive — and, in some cases, a disincentive — for scientists at universities and federal agencies to license their research to companies.

“They are focused on getting a product out for the government, and the commercial aspect doesn’t come into play,” said C. Warren Mullins, vice president of Battelle, a nonprofit corporation that conducts technological research for industry and government.

Alphonso Diaz, director of the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, said researchers there “could be a wonderful asset, but I’m not sure how we would deal with industry.”

Mr. Mote will help lead the task force and said it will be charged with finding ways to encourage researchers to license their work with companies. The task force also will look at ways of improving relations with the offices that award commercial licenses for research.

Remaining panel members were not selected yesterday, and it is still uncertain how large the group will be or how long it will serve. Early discussions yesterday indicated that the Washington Board of Trade and members of technology commissions in Virginia and Maryland would be heavily involved.

The task force also will be asked to create a mentor network to help businesses succeed, and an online portal to make research and technology more accessible. And the panel will look into the feasibility of forming a fund to make commercialization of research easier.

Discussion of technology as a driver for the region’s economy comes after nearly three years of a slump in the tech sector.

But the region’s leaders, including D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams, a Democrat; Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican; and Virginia Gov. Mark Warner, a Democrat, insisted that the market would rebound, leading the region to economic prosperity.

“I still believe we are racing at Internet speed to a knowledge-based economy,” said Mr. Warner, a former venture capitalist.

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