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Coulter Foundation and NSF to Launch University Commercialization Prize with AAAS

Amid concerns about U.S. innovation and jobs, a new prize—being launched by the Wallace H. Coulter Foundation and the National Science Foundation (NSF) in concert with AAAS—will recognize successful university-based commercialization activities.

News of the prize was made public 16 September at the same time that U.S. President Barack Obama signed the America Invents Act into law. Previously known as the Patent Reform Act of 2011, the legislation intends to “convert ideas of American universities and research labs into new products to expand our economy and create jobs,” according to the White House.

“We need to invest in basic research and technology” so that “great ideas of the future” will move from universities to the marketplace, Obama said during a signing ceremony at the Thomas Jefferson School for Science and Technology in Alexandria, Virginia. He also spoke of the need for incentives and support for innovators.


Mark Milutinovich | Photo by Edward W. Lempinen

AAAS will play a “central managerial role for the prize,” specifically by spearheading the design and implementation of a competition “to promote exemplary commercialization activities that measurably improve university commercialization,” explained Mark Milutinovich, director of the association’s Research Competitiveness Program. The new initiative is expected to involve a diverse array of partner agencies, foundations, and other organizations.


“Universities have become essential players in translating research into commercial services and products,” Milutinovich noted. “A primary goal of the new prize will be to shine a light on high-impact university commercialization practices, and to encourage broad implementation of them, especially in places not yet pursuing those types of activities.”

Universities have been key contributors to research-based commercialization—encompassing technology transfer, entrepreneurship, and innovation—since the passage in 1980 of the Bayh-Dole Act. That legislation gave U.S. universities, small businesses, and non-profits control over their inventions and other intellectual property. But across the country, the effectiveness of commercialization efforts remains highly variable, just as the academic culture and business environment is different from campus to campus, Milutinovich said.

The organizers’ goal is to distribute the first round of prizes in late 2012. Initially, he said, the prize will be geared toward “dean-level activities supporting engineering and biomedicine.”

Activities falling into the commercialization category might include, for example, entrepreneurial training for students or faculty, or policies that encourage faculty to contribute their time toward developing new companies. AAAS staff will lead the development of the new competition, collect and analyze relevant data, identify winners and help disseminate information on best practices in university commercialization.

The AAAS Research Competitiveness Program (RCP), dating to 1993, has a substantial history of working at the crossroads of university research and technology transfer activities. Originally, the program focused on providing services to institutions in states that participate in the NSF’s Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research. Today, RCP supports clients at universities, research centers, state agencies and other institutions—from Michigan to Missouri, and from Puerto Rico to the King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology in Saudi Arabia—who are concerned with competitive research, development and innovation.


Read the White House news release that mentions AAAS and the new commercialization prize.

Learn more about the AAAS Research Competitiveness Program.

Learn more about the Wallace H. Coulter Foundation.