- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 25, 2004

The Washington area must rely less on the federal government for research and turn more to the private sector because it offers a bigger economic benefit, says a group of technology leaders from the public and private sectors.

The Potomac Conference Technology Trade Task Force said the region should lure at least one more major company to anchor the research and development of commercial technology.

The 40-member task force said a tech powerhouse would spur the growth of smaller companies in the region, resulting in more patents, licenses for research, venture capital and, in the end, more money.

“We have great companies, but we could use more,” said Mark Frantz, a co-chairman of the task force and principal of investment firm the Caryle Group. “You could have an explosive multiplier effect here.”

Sterling, Va.-based America Online, the world’s largest Internet service provider, has been credited with sparking many new tech companies in Northern Virginia. But Mr. Frantz said AOL is now more focused on implementing existing technologies than developing new ones.

Lockheed Martin, the Bethesda-based defense contractor that has produced more patents than any other company, does not always create technologies that are accessible to consumers, he said.

The area generates more research money than nearly all regions with similar size and population. But 82 percent of the money used for research and development of technology in Maryland, and 62 percent in Virginia, comes from the federal government. Similar technology hubs such as Massachusetts and California receive 21 percent to 32 percent of their research money from the federal government.

Members of the task force said the Washington region always will rely more on government money than other places.

The problem, task force members said, is that government agencies often are too committed to certain missions and have less incentive than companies to turn their research into dollars.

“We need to do more with the public labs to get their technology out in the public sector for commercialization,” said C.D. “Dan” Mote Jr., president of the University of Maryland and co-chairman of the task force.

The task force was formed as a result of the June meeting of the Potomac Conference, a daylong gathering of more than 150 leaders from local universities, companies and government agencies who discussed ways to increase the commercial success of technologies developed in the Washington area.

The Washington region ranked fourth among major tech centers in the number of patents issued in 2002, with 1,768. But it ranked last in the number of patents per business.

Similarly, universities in the area averaged fewer than one license for every $10 million in research, below the national average and half that of the San Francisco Bay area and Boston.

The task force argued that the Washington area should follow the example of those two regions, where major universities work with high-profile companies on developing technologies and then produce them in the marketplace.

The task force said the Washington area has no lack of top research universities, but that partnering with local tech firms has not generated the type of financial benefits seen in other cities.


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