NASA Offers Its Patent Licenses to Startup Companies

Its goal is to help advance innovation

6 November 2015

While NASA’s mission may be focused on space exploration, its technical patents can be applied to nearly any engineering field, including biotechnology, communications, and software development. That’s why the space agency is now offering startup companies licenses for more than 1,200 of its patents with no up-front payment.

The initiative is being led by NASA’s Technology Transfer Program. David Miller, the agency’s chief technologist, said in a news release that this “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.” The idea is that emerging companies can use these licenses without having to raise capital to purchase licensing rights or apply for their own patents, which can cost tens of thousands of dollars and can take years to process.

WHAT’S THE CATCH?

NASA’s offer is open only to startups that have plans to commercialize the licensed technology. Although it waives the initial licensing fees, with no minimum fees for the first three years, NASA will collect a standard net royalty fee once the company starts selling the product. (You didn’t think it would be totally free, did you?) The royalty first goes to the inventor who holds the patent and then to maintaining the agency’s technology transfer activities as well as its technology advancements.

The startup also does not have exclusivity to the licenses. In other words, several startups could apply and receive permission to use the same technology. However, NASA will consider exclusivity if a startup wants to negotiate the terms.

And the deal only applies to U.S.-based startups.

FINDING PATENTS

The space agency’s website makes it easy to browse and find these patents. For example, in the search bar type in “sensors” and you’ll find 123 results, including a patent for a low-profile wireless sensor that receives power and sends signals wirelessly. Or search “robotics” and you’ll find a patent for walk-and-roll robot. This innovation combines walking and rolling capabilities to help robots navigate harsh environments and increase stability. Each patent comes with a brief description of how the technology works as well as the various applications it can be used for.

Moreover, NASA technical personnel and its facilities are available to lend additional support.

READY TO APPLY?

If you’re interested, e-mail NASA. It’s that easy. If you’d like to do your homework first, read through a sample license agreement, browse through the many patent options, or get right to it and fill out a license request form.

Be sure to let us know if you decide to apply for a patent license and how it works out for you. The Institute might feature your startup or product in a future issue. 

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