America's Next Top Energy Innovator

The Department of Energy cuts through some licensing red tape to encourage start-ups to commercialize government technologies.

The Department of Energy kicked off its "America's Next Top Energy Innovator" challenge last week. Don't worry, there's no word on Tyra Banks being a judge. In fact, the only judges involved would be start-ups choosing among the 12,000 or so unlicensed technologies developed by the country's national laboratories. Whether the companies will profit from these technologies is another show.

The point of the program, which is part of Obama's Startup America Initiative, is to help fledgling companies get into the energy game. So the DOE is cutting the paperwork, the time, and the costs incurred by start-up companies to license their technology. The program also greases the runway for government energy technologies to reach commercialization. After all, the DOE has spent billions on the research.

Currently, just 10 percent of the federal patents have gone commercial. Among them is the GM Volt's use of a longer-lasting lithium-ion battery developed by Argonne National Laboratory. General Motors isn't a start-up but the Energy Department hopes the streamlined process will double the number of them emerging from its 17 national laboratories.

Energy Secretary Steven Chu said in a statement:

Our goal is simple: unleash America's innovation machine and win the global race for the clean energy jobs of the future.

Descriptions of the available licenses are found within the DOE's Energy Innovation Portal. The technologies span just about every clean energy field, from a tube to test underground fluids during geothermal energy development (above) to smart grid software and green buildings to better mirrors for concentrated solar power (right).

Until mid-December, entrepreneurs can apply to license up to three different technologies from one laboratory. All for just $1,000 up front. The typical cost? Somewhere between $10,000 and $50,000. Applicants also must submit a business plan and sign a general agreement with the laboratory.

Negotiations on possible on equity and royalties will be hashed out after a company becomes commercially successful. The top performers also have a shot at a showcase in the 2012 ARPA-E Energy Information Summit.

Related on SmartPlanet:

Images: Lawrence Berkely National Laboratory and Pat Corkery

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