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NASA offers its patent portfolio to start-ups with no up-front payment required

Published Oct 11th, 2015 5:59PM EDT
NASA Patents

While most people tend to view NASA solely in the context of space exploration, the famed government agency also has a surprising number of inventions to its name. From creating memory foam in the early 1960s to coming up with Cochlear Implants in the 1970s, the list of innovative products and advanced technologies with roots at NASA is rather extensive.

Now, in an effort to generate cash while at the same time encourage innovation, NASA will be soon be opening up its patent portfolio to the masses with no up-front payment required.

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“NASA’s Technology Transfer Program says it’s opening up its patent portfolio and waiving the costs associated with using the patents for at least the first three years of a company’s product development,” The Washington Post reports. “Once a startup has brought the product to market, NASA will start collecting a “standard net royalty fee,” but otherwise inventors will be able to use the patents however they like.”

NASA’s press release on the matter reads:

NASA is unveiling a new opportunity for start-up companies to license patented NASA technology with no up-front payment. The Startup NASA initiative addresses two common problems start-ups face: raising capital and securing intellectual property rights.

Aimed at encouraging the growth of high-tech businesses and advancing American innovation, NASA’s Technology Transfer Program within the Office of the Chief Technologist designed this initiative to allow start-up companies to choose from a diverse portfolio of more than 1,200 patented NASA technologies that range from materials and coatings to sensors, aeronautics technologies, instrumentation and more.

“The Startup NASA initiative leverages the results of our cutting-edge research and development so entrepreneurs can take that research — and some risks — to create new products and new services,” said David Miller, NASA’s chief technologist.

Finding the technologies available for license is simply a click away. NASA has created a streamlined, online patent portfolio covering 15 categories and packed with patents protected by the U.S. government. Once a desired technology is identified, an online application can be filled out and submitted through the website.

Although the license itself is free, the start-up companies must adhere to the following guidelines:

  • This offer is open only to companies formed with the express intent of commercializing the licensed NASA technology.

  • “No up-front payment” means NASA waives the initial licensing fees, and there are no minimum fees for the first three years.

  • Once the company starts selling a product, NASA will collect a standard net royalty fee. This money goes first to the inventor and then to maintaining the agency’s technology transfer activities and technology advancement.

  • This announcement applies only to non-exclusive licenses, which means other companies may apply for similar rights to use the technology for commercial purposes. However, NASA will consider further exclusivity if the start-up wishes to negotiate.

  • Companies entering into these licenses are bound by all requirements in federal licensing statutes and NASA policies, including development of a commercialization plan and reporting on efforts to achieve practical application.

If that at all sounds intriguing, NASA maintains a searchable database of its patent portfolio online. What’s more, users can peruse through NASA’s collection of patents on a category by category basis, including aeronautics, communications, IT and software, optics, and much much more.

Yoni Heisler Contributor

Yoni Heisler has been writing about Apple and the tech industry at large for over 15 years. A life long Mac user and Apple expert, his writing has appeared in Edible Apple, Network World, MacLife, Macworld UK, and TUAW. When not analyzing the latest happenings with Apple, Yoni enjoys catching Improv shows in Chicago, playing soccer, and cultivating new TV show addictions.