The income the University earned as a result of patent royalties stemming from its research increased by about 65 percent from 2011 to 2012. Gross licensing income climbed to $1,592,300 in 2012, an increase from $962,000 in the previous fiscal year, according to information provided by the Technology Ventures Office.
Ninety-eight patents were filed during the fiscal year 2012, and 15 were issued, compared to 72 and eight, respectively, in 2011.
This revenue growth seen by the Technology Ventures Office reflects a growing economy, more deals reaching completion and “a commitment by the University and its researchers to license potential products when opportunities arise,” wrote Katherine Gordon, managing director of the office, in an email to The Herald.
According to the annual Association of University Technology Managers survey, which the University did not respond to, total licensing revenue in 2011 for the 157 responding universities was nearly $1.8 billion and the number of patent filings was 12,090.
The Technology Ventures Office did not respond to the survey because they wanted to ensure the accuracy of their findings before reporting them, Gordon said. The office will submit University numbers for inclusion in the 2012 survey, she said.
The University’s 2011 fiscal year licensing income would have ranked it at 88th among the survey’s responders, between the University of Arizona at $981,495 and Clemson University at $937,274, based on statistics published by the Chronicle of Higher Education.
Comparing the Technology Ventures Office to similar bodies at other schools is difficult because they cater to differently sized institutions and handle different things, Gordon said.
The office’s goal is to make research accessible to the public sector while still maintaining academic freedom for researchers, Gordon said.
Under the 1980 Bayh-Dole Act, universities receive preference in intellectual property rights for ideas resulting from federally funded research, making the Technology Ventures Office essential to University researchers looking to commercialize their work.
“Well, they’re instrumental,” said Christoph Rose-Petruck, professor of chemistry. “Without them, there is no patent.”
Petruck currently has a provisional patent for a cancer X-ray imaging technology he helped developed that detects the disease more accurately by tracking particles attached to antibodies that seek out cancer cells. He said he is currently trying to get an international patent.
Even if he were free to patent his research himself, he said the enormous cost of the patenting process would remain an obstacle.
“Without that office, I may have 100 percent of nothing, but with it I may have a fraction of something,” Petruck said.
The desire to patent research often comes from the inventors themselves, wrote Michael Black, adjunct professor of computer science, in an email to The Herald.
“The University usually has to push back because the budget for patenting is limited and they have to choose, among all projects, the ones most likely to have an impact,” Black said.
“I don’t know that there’s been any increased pressure” from the University to promote commercialization, said Kenneth Breuer, professor of engineering.
The nature of engineering is to create projects for public use, so the department has always had an interest in technology ventures, he said.
Beppie Huidekoper, executive vice president for finance and administration, said that in her 30 years of experience, she has rarely seen revenue from technology ventures meet expected earnings levels.
“It’s not that easy,” Huidekoper said. “You have to invest in something (that actually makes money).”
Though a minority of projects end up earning substantial sums, the University always tries to work with companies interested in projects, she said. The office’s website has a feature that allows companies to search for technologies that University researchers seek to license or commercialize.
Petruck said he is satisfied with his involvement with the Technology Ventures Office, but he said the University could provide more support for start-ups that develop alongside research. The companies could help bring in research money for the University, and while the connection could wane over time, it may not if Brown personnel remain involved, he said.
The relationship between universities and start-ups is an “interesting dynamic,” Gordon said, citing schools such as Stanford University and the California Institute of Technology as institutions that heavily involve themselves with start-ups based on institutional research.
In the 2011 fiscal year, Stanford reported approximately $67 million in licensing income, and Cal Tech reported about $29 million.
Gordon said the office offers help to researchers interested in creating start-ups, but limits its involvement to the initial stages.