For the first time ever, the U.S. Department of Energy is inviting venture capitalists to spend up to a year in government labs, said Alexander Karsner, an assistant secretary at the department, at the Dow Jones Alternative Energy Innovations conference Tuesday.
Karsner, assistant secretary for energy efficiency and renewable energy, said pushing the commercialization of clean-energy technology research "hasn't been a priority" for the U.S. government in the past.
The new program is aimed at solving the deficiency.
At the conference in Redwood City, Calif., Karsner said venture capitalists will get "unfettered access" to the labs as part of the Entrepreneur-In-Residence Program.
The point is to create a bridge between the scientists and the people who know how to capitalize on scientific discoveries, he said.
The United States needs that bridge because government lab scientists are motivated exclusively to carry out research and report results, he said. "They do not produce business plans," Karsner said.
The National Renewable Energy Lab, Sandia National Laboratory and Oak Ridge National Laboratory will be the first research facilities where VCs will be able to get up close and personal with government innovation.
The DOE will start accepting applications in December to fill the three slots. The federal agency also said it will provide up to $300,000 in funding to support the program.
Karsner said the program is a logical step to help bring technology developed in the labs to the market.
But there are still a few unknowns for selected VCs. The federal agency is working to define the terms and conditions for the transfer of intellectual property. The percentage of royalties that will belong to each party also has not been determined.
"Right now it is the laboratories themselves that retain those royalties for discovery, much in the way an academic institution would," Karsner said. He expects royalties for each technology will be negotiated individually.
Karsner hopes the program will become profitable for the venture-capital community so the technologies can enter the marketplace more quickly.
"We put the most into [research and development]," he said. "We have moved these things down the cost curve. We have accelerated their position in the market. But then we view there being a magic technology-transfer window to the marketplace."