Patents bring in more funds forresearch and technology office

David Hyland

The University Office for Research and Technology Transfer Administration had a stellar year in 1997, thanks to a dramatic increase in the number of patents issued by the federal government.
“We’ve had a fairly successful year,” said Edward Wink, associate vice president for the office. “I think it was a high water mark.”
However, amid the concurrent surge of money, a number of drastic changes have been proposed over the last two years to alter the University’s control over the office and the office’s policies about intellectual property.
Intellectual property is defined as anything that can generate revenue, said professor Gary Balas, who is a member of the University’s Senate Committee on Faculty Affairs, which is considering amendments to intellectual property policy.
Although there isn’t a set timeline as to when the change proposal will be voted on, the committee expects to finish reviewing it sometime this month, said Balas, an associate professor of aerospace engineering and mechanics.
If the proposal passes, the University Board of Regents would have to make a final approval before any changes are implemented.
Vice President for Research Mark Brenner proposed the changes to the intellectual property policy, which include making revenue distribution more uniform for such patentable agreements.
Balas said the policy initiative, which calls for the distribution to be in thirds for all patentable works, was begun in order to keep a greater share of the revenue in the University.
“They basically see that there is money to be made out there,” Balas said.
Currently, after a patent is issued, money from licensing agreements with private industries are split into thirds, Wink said. One-third of the royalties goes to the researchers and another third goes to the technology transfer office to cover costs. The final third is divided between 25 percent supporting the specific field from which the invention originated and 8 percent going to the specific college.
However, money from copyrights, which are usually reserved for written works such as theses or software, is not distributed like that generated from patents. The current revenue distribution for copyrights has inventors getting 75 percent of the money and the University receiving 25 percent.
Brenner’s proposal would make revenue distribution from copyrights more uniform with patentable agreements.
Another change, though not part of Brenner’s proposal, facing the technology office is a possible reorganization or restructuring.
Wink said that although nothing has been solidified, there are talks in progress over possibly reorganizing the office.
“It’s being discussed,” Wink said. “I think we have to look at that and decide, ‘Is there some other model? Is there some other organizational structure to make this more efficient?'”
Dr. Robert Vince, professor of medicinal chemistry, said he believes the dramatic increase in revenue for the office is the reason for an increased interest in changes to office procedures.
“Where were (University administrators) all these years when (the office was) struggling and when the inventors were struggling, trying to get some kind of backing from the University?” said Vince, who has worked closely with the office on his more than 25 patents since the 1970s. “The University was absent and silent. But now it seems to me that there’s a great interest in this department.”
Wink said that making each department and college “accountable to their revenue stream” is part of a University-wide program.
“This goes on throughout the institution,” Wink said, “This is another revenue stream that they will look at.”
Tony Strauss, the office’s director of mechanical, chemical, electrical and biological technologies, said the office’s increase in patents and revenues began in the late 1980s and early ’90s. He said increasing research emphasis in fields with large numbers of patents, such as pharmaceuticals, have benefited from more federal funding that have fostered explosions in those fields.
Only now however, are these increases being felt. Strauss said this is principally because of the long process of acquiring a patent.