System Chancellor emphasizes generating revenue from patents

Liz Farmer

Editor’s note: This is the first in a four-part, weekly series examining System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa’s plan to increase efficiency across UT institutions.

In an effort to increase revenue, the University plans to be more selective in filing patents for faculty product ideas.

In System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa’s Framework for Excellence Action Plan, he prioritizes generating revenue from technology commercialization, which is the process of patenting products developed through faculty research.

Richard Miller, chief commercialization officer of the Office of Technology Commercialization, said UT is now more selective about which faculty ideas the office patents. Technologies are now judged based on potential for profit and market demand. He said this allows the office to get more protective patents, which are more expensive.

“Universities typically try to save money,” Miller said. “We used to file almost everything that walked in the door.”

Miller said technology commercialization through Texas research universities is increasingly important to the state because it creates more jobs.

“There’s so much focus on this because given the state of the economy, we need to create more technology that will help us as Americans,” Miller said.

Miller said the total revenue from commercialization was about $25.6 million last year at UT.

“I’m looking to make changes that increase the revenue into our office,” Miller said.

He said the Office of Technology Commercialization needs to create more startup companies based on faculty ideas while it focuses on the strongest potential patents.

From 2003 to 2010, the University created 57 startup companies.

“The biggest thing we’re doing is to think more entrepreneurially,” Miller said. “We are not just matchmakers — we are active founders.”

Betsy Merrick, associate marketing director of the Office of Technology Commercialization, said student ideas are sometimes involved in patents and startups.

Based on revenue generated and the number of companies created, the University of Utah ranks first in technology commercialization across the nation and UT ranks 17th, according to a report from the Association of University Technology Managers. The University of Utah ranks 70th in research and UT ranks 28th, according to the report.

Jack Brittain, vice president of Technology Venture Development at the University of Utah, said his university is able to achieve its high technology commercialization ranking by creating more products using cheaper patents, the strategy which UT is moving away from.

Brittain said the University of Utah focuses on student involvement and created about 50 companies last year based on student startups.

“We’re defining experiences for our students while they’re at the school,” Brittain said.

Brittain said many top research universities like UT spend too much time worrying about the strength of patents and their long-term reliability.

“I think there’s a lot of good stuff at UT that could positively impact [society] that gets stuck in the system,” Brittain said.

Printed on September 12, 2011 as: University to increase revenue by commercializing research