U among top-25 research universities

The University was ranked as one of the best public research universities in the country based on nine categories.

Ethan Nelson

The University of Minnesota’s commercial activities could be improving its ranking in research.

For the first time, the school is considered one of the top-25 best public research universities nationwide. Officials say the high ranking is due to the institution’s better business relationships, higher amount of technology commercialization and boost in grant funds.

The list administered by Arizona State University’s Center for Measuring University Performance considers factors like the amount of research funding a university receives, its number of doctorates awarded and its undergraduate SAT scores.

The CMUP reviews all of the public research universities in the country and marks 25 as the best according to nine different categories. For the first time, the University is one of them.

“There’s a new appreciation for businesses that are funding the research,” said Doug Green, president and CEO of American Peat Technology. His company, which is based in northern Minnesota has been a University partner since 2008.

In the past, businesses interested in sponsoring research criticized the University, calling it difficult to navigate and too bureaucratic.

“I think we’re easier to work with now,” said Brian Herman, the University’s Vice President for Research.

In 2011 the University started Minnesota Innovation Partnerships, a program that makes licensing University technology easier for outside companies.

Before the program, companies that invested in University research had no guarantee of what the licensing deal would be.

“Prior to the advent of this MN-IP program, small businesses simply could not do work with the University,” Green said.

 Green said his company contributes $130,000 annually to University research. Around 2011, the University put a new emphasis on partnerships with businesses.

Since then, the school has made its technology more available to those looking to use it, Herman said.

Herman’s office established the Office for Economic Development last year, which provides University resources, like consultations and product testing, to outside companies.

MnDRIVE, a partnership between the University and the state, has served as an example of the University’s improved relationships with the public as well, Herman said.

The University has more than doubled the number of patents it’s filed since 2009, and it fiercely protects them. It recently sued the nation’s four largest wireless services companies for violating a patent on a professor’s invention.

In 2012, the school invested in Intellectual Ventures, a patent troll that purchases patents and files lawsuits against companies that violate them.

The University also received $741 million last year in grant funding, up from $693 million in 2013.

And the data for the first month of 2015 shows an increase in the categories ranked by the CMUP, Herman said.

There are a number of deals that will bring millions of dollars to the University, Herman said, like potentially the lawsuit and a recent multimillion dollar licensing deal for a cancer treatment developed by a professor in the College of Biological Sciences.

The universities at the top of the CMUP list usually don’t change much from year to year, said Craig Abbey, who worked on the report.