Case Study 21
Concrete Armouring for the Coast - Government to Private Sector Technology
James G. Boyd
Coastal Services Center
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)
Keywords: breakwater concrete armouring, coastal protection, licensing,
In 1993, two researchers at a United States federal laboratory, the U.S. Army
Engineers Waterways Experiment Station (WES), developed and patented a new design
for breakwater concrete armouring. The transfer of this innovative technology
followed the classical pathway by which national government-sponsored research
and development may be adopted and applied by the international private sector.
The significant features of this case were new government policy, which provided
additional incentives for the government laboratory and the inventors to pursue
commercialisation of their innovation, and the presence of a global market.
The transfer pathway included government-to-government transfer within the U.S.
Army Corps of Engineers (COE), but has focused intensively on transfer from
government to the international private sector. Five companies are now permanent
regional licensees covering North America, South America, Europe, Asia, the
Far East, Japan, South Africa, and the Middle East.
The COE research programme established to investigate new design methods for
concrete armour units funded the initial development and testing of this technology.
This innovation has wide-ranging potential application, as there are sites worldwide
in need of coastal protection for land, property, and life. However, for some,
the cost of this type of technology is a prohibitive factor. While this technology
has been shown to potentially cost less and be more reliable than other armouring
technologies, the initial investment is still a consideration, especially for
those countries with limited resources. Altogether, this innovative technology
seems to hold great promise, while the case study provides an excellent example
of a product, market, and policy coming together to provide an opportunity for
the transfer of technology.
Research and development funding was provided exclusively by the Corps. Once
testing was completed, technical presentations were made at coastal engineering
conferences in Japan, the United Kingdom, South Africa, and Spain, and local
seminars were used to introduce the technology to prospective users. A U.S.
patent was awarded in 1995, but the international patents were significantly
more difficult for the patentees to obtain. By retaining an experienced international
patent attorney, this obstacle was overcome. In the United States, the Federal
Technology Transfer Act of 1986 (FTTA) made technology transfer a responsibility
of all federal laboratory scientists, allowed laboratories to enter into CRADAs
and negotiate licensing agreements, and established principles for royalty sharing
for federal inventors and other incentives for the laboratories. The developers
and WES took advantage of the FTTA and entered into a CRADA with a South African
firm interested in using the armouring units for a project. Difficulties in
construction and the substantial time required administering the agreements
provided WES with the incentive to establish permanent licenses with a few select
experienced private companies. The patentees continued to promote the technology
during licensing negotiations and provided technical support to another CRADA
partner as well as subsequent licensee projects.
The application and promotion of the technology resulted in the unit being proposed
and used worldwide very early in its patent life, which is particularly uncharacteristic
for coastal protection structures. A significant feature in gaining the quick
acceptance of this new civil engineering technology was that the researchers
addressed their clients' anxiety risk by streamlining the usual "chain-of-command"
responses, as provided by the FTTA. At this time, WES involvement in projects
is limited, as the licensees have begun to actively promote the technology,
conduct their own research, and administer all projects.
It is important to note that much of the early technology transfer was done
without specific government funding and was accomplished beyond the normal duties
of the government researchers. However, the incentives provided by the FTTA
have resulted in nearly US$1 million in engineering revenue, license fees, and
royalties for the WES. In addition, the FTTA allowed the government inventors
to share the royalty revenue. This provided motivation for the researchers to
commit a great deal of personal time and energy to develop the product and an
associated construction technique, and implement the technology transfer. It
also provided incentive for WES to allow the researchers to perform this work.
Without these types of incentives, technology transfer of this type would be
much more difficult, or might require a completely different type of transfer
Jeffrey, M. (Research Hydraulic Engineer, WES), Personal communication.
Phillip, S. (Technology Transfer Office, WES), Personal communication.
Melby, J., and G. Turk. U.S. 1997: Army Corps of Engineers Waterways Experiment
Station Technical Report CHL-97-4 (March).
Jeffrey A. Melby (CEWES-CN-S)
USAE Waterways Experiment Station
Coastal and Hydraulics Laboratory
fax: 601/634-3433; 3909