U struggles to market technology

The University has lagged in earnings from patented technology and startups.

by Jessica Van Berkel

The University of Minnesota has its sights set on becoming one of the nationâÄôs top research institutions but is struggling to market the âÄúintellectual technologyâÄù it produces. The UniversityâÄôs Venture Center used to spin off two or three companies each year, but this number has decreased over the past few years to one or two companies as people become more risk adverse in the tough economy, Venture Center analyst Justin Porter said. The Venture Center joins patented University technologies with investors to form start-ups that are âÄúfinanceable and able to bring in revenue to the University,âÄù as the school owns a portion of the companiesâÄô equities, Porter said. A technology is marketed as a start-up if the technology is a radical shift from the paradigm in the field. Technology that is not as radical is often sold to pre-existing companies who pay the University royalties. Over the past three years, the University earned $243.4 million in royalties from patented technology. But $218.6 million came from Ziagen, an AIDS-combating drug purchased by GlaxoSmithKline. The royalties are running out for Ziagen, because the bulk of foreign patents expired in January 2009, and the domestic patents will expire between January 2009 and 2013, said John Merritt, spokesman for the Office of the Vice President for Research. The money the University receives varies from case to case, but what the University receives is divided into thirds between the inventor, the department and the Office for the Vice President of Research, Porter said. The University needs new investors to fill the gap that will be left by the loss of royalties on Ziagen. It is not about the number of technologies commercialized but the quality, Porter said. Technology strategy managers evaluate the intellectual property the University produces. They look at how new, novel and marketable the technology is, and whether the inventor is well known in order to determine its chances at success, Porter said. Shawn Lyndon invested in University technology in 2007, when he founded Orasi Medical. The company bought technology developed by professor and neuroscientist Apostolos Georgopoulos. The technology identifies and tracks brain diseases like AlzheimerâÄôs by recording the magnetic fields in the brain. Orasi has been doing very well, although they were struggling a year ago, Lyndon said. Lyndon said people who choose to start companies take a âÄúleap of faith.âÄù Georgopoulos said the technology can measure six different diseases and was âÄútoo much to ignore âĦ the power of this test was immense.âÄù Lyndon said the University lacks the culture of commercialization that other schools have. âÄúIâÄôve scratched my head, why is it?âÄù he said. Schools like Stanford University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have a culture and awareness of how to get research commercialized and have a good system in place for doing so, Lyndon said. The Venture Center is a huge step in the right direction but needs more support, Porter said. With government funding drying up, private funding for technology is how the University can stay near the top, Lyndon said.