U.S. Secretary of Energy, Steven Chu
U.S. Secretary of Energy, Steven Chu Reuters

The U.S. Department of Energy has announced a new national program dubbed 'America's Next Top Energy Innovator' challenge that is intended to boost innovation in the field of clean energy by incentivizing startup energy companies.

The program was launched at a forum held at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which saw an array of White House officials discussing the administration's 'Startup America' initiative, launched in January, which is intended to help new firms and small businesses succeed. 'America's Next Top Energy Innovator' is also a part of the above initiative.

The new program drastically reduces the cost of licensing any of the roughly 15,000 patents held by the federal government's National Laboratories, where basic scientific research is done. Announcing the program, US Secretary of Energy Steven Chu said, We're challenging entrepreneurs to move technologies invented in our National Laboratories out of the lab and into the marketplace.

Under the challenge, energy entrepreneurs will be able to license up to three National Laboratories patents for just $1,000 each - which could result in savings of anything between $10000 and $50000 in upfront licensing fees. Starting May 2 and within the deadline of Dec. 15, competing entrepreneurs must identify the technology of interest and submit a business plan in a streamlined template that the Department will release online.

Technologies available range from software that helps reduce energy use in buildings to ways of converting solar power into thermal energy on demand.

The program will also simplify the licensing process and establish a standard set of terms for start-ups, who generally lack the resources, time or expertise to negotiate individual licensing agreements.