Indiana University staff and faculty filed a record 116 patent applications and spun out a record five new businesses in fiscal year 2007 – a result of an increased effort by the school to encourage its researchers to develop marketable technologies, IU said recently.
The director of the IU Research and Technology Corporation last week attributed the growth in tech-transfer activity to increased research at the IU School of Medicine, a concerted effort to recruit well-funded faculty developing marketable technologies, and a recent increase in both state and federal research funding.
According to technology transfer metrics released this month by the IURTC, the non-profit affiliate of IU responsible for managing the school’s patent portfolio, the record 116 patent applications eclipsed the previous mark of 97 set by the school in FY ’03.
Meanwhile, the five companies spun out of IU research were the most since the school spun out four companies in FY ’04. Additionally, the school executed 70 licenses and options of university intellectual property in FY ’07, a 10 percent increase over FY ’06, IU said.
One blip in the overall upward year-over-year trend was the fact that the total number of invention disclosures provided by IU faculty and staff to IURTC decreased about 16 percent to 216 in FY ’07 from 257 in FY ’06.
However, Mark Long, CEO and president of IURTC, told BTW last week that the decreased FY ’07 invention disclosures still represented an overall upward trend, as the number of invention disclosures in FY ‘ 05 was only 127.
“I think that over-200 level is fairly significant for a research institution with our research budget of about $450 million,” Long said. “And you [will] probably see these numbers vary somewhat. [The] 257 [invention disclosures] was a record year where we really went out and saw some low-hanging fruit, and really accelerated the pace. Now we’re seeing more of a consistent number in the 200 to 220 range that is probably more indicative of a research institution with between $400 million and $500 million in funding.”
Another key marker for success, Long said, is the patent reimbursement rate, or the rate at which companies are licensing patents and reimbursing the university for the costs associated with filing the patent.
According to Long, IU’s reimbursement rate is hovering around 58 percent, meaning more than half of the patents the university files have been licensed. “At a lot of offices, if you’re around 15 or 20 percent, that’s good,” he said. “The majority of things that we’re patenting are leading to a license, which is a good thing.”
IU also said that the number of patents – US, European, or other – issued to the university increased 20 percent to 24 in FY ’07 from 20 in FY ’06. According to the US Patent and Trademark Office patent database, the agency awarded a total of nine US patents to IU in FY ’07, which ran from July 1, 2006, to June 30, 2007.
However, Long told BTW that total patents awarded is not a particularly telling statistic in that it is a number that the school cannot control and is “highly dependent on how fast the various patent agencies process patents, how complex the patents are, what area the patents are filed in, et cetera.”
IU did not disclose the amount of revenues it generated in FY ’07 or prior years from patent licensing fees or royalties.
Long said that Indiana’s recent spike in technology transfer activity can be attributed to several factors, but a surge in entrepreneurship at the IU School of Medicine was one of the primary drivers.
Long said that the School of Medicine has seen an especially marked increase in research funding since Craig Brater was appointed dean of the school in 2000 and, as such, most of IU’s invention disclosures have come from the medical school campus.
Specifically, Long said that in FY ’01, the medical school produced 44 invention disclosures; in FY ’06, it produced 200, or about 77 percent of IU’s total invention disclosures; and in FY ’07, 160, or about 74 percent.
“And it’s the same way with patents,” Long said. “Since FY ’01, we’ve gone from something like 50 patents out of the medical school to about 80 or 85. Craig has been actively hiring a lot of new researchers, and actively building the expansion.”
“The majority of things that we’re patenting are leading to a license, which is a good thing.”
Furthermore, a majority of IU’s spinout companies are related to research conducted at the medical school, including ImmuneWorks, which is developing therapies to treat lung transplant autoimmunity; Fast Diagnostics, which is developing a reusable optical device and an injectable fluorescent compound for assessing the severity of kidney injury; Predictive Physiology and Medicine, or PPM, which is developing personalized drug therapies based on blood biomarkers; and Marcadia Biotech, which has developed a glucagon injector pen for emergency use to counteract severe hypoglycemia in diabetics.
Long estimates that the remainder of IU’s invention disclosures relate to information technology; a mix of basic biology, chemistry, and physics; and a few other miscellaneous research areas.
Other factors contributing to IU’s recent uptick in tech-transfer activity include the recruitment of researchers “who have significant research funding and who have been pursuing significant research projects,” Long said.
He also cited increased federal and state research funding, the latter primarily coming from the Indiana 21st Century Research and Technology Fund, which was created in 1999 to stimulate the state's economy through technology commercialization.
Long said that the IURTC, whose main offices are based in Indianapolis along with IU’s School of Medicine, has expanded over the past few years to keep up with the increased commercialization activity.
He said that when he was appointed as CEO and president of IURTC in early 2002, it had three employees in Indianapolis, and none stationed on IU’s main campus in Bloomington. Those numbers have increased to six employees in Indianapolis and two in Bloomington.
“It’s a chore,” he said. “We could still use a couple more employees, but we do outsource the patent work to law firms, and not all disclosures end up as patents. We do most of the internal marketing, search work, and scientific work, however.”