By Ben Butkus
The number of inventions and patent applications claimed by researchers at Ireland's University College Dublin has increased over the past three years, according to statistics released last week by NovaUCD, the school's tech-transfer arm.
NovaUCD attributes the increases on its effort in recent years to ramp up tech-transfer activity at the university — about 60 percent of which is in the life science category.
NovaUCD's efforts have also benefitted from a portion of a €30 million ($42.2 million) initiative launched by the Irish government in 2007 to boost tech transfer at the country's research institutions. The group also said it expects that a commercialization alliance announced in March with neighboring Trinity College Dublin will drum up additional activity, a NovaUCD spokesperson said this week.
NovaUCD, which opened for business in 2003, last year logged 53 invention disclosures from UCD researchers, 4 percent better than last year and 43 percent over 2007. It also filed 38 new patent applications in 2008 compared with 26 patent filings in 2007 and 20 filings in 2006.
Last year's patent applications included 25 priority applications, six patent cooperation treaty filings, and seven national/regional applications. The 25 priority applications in 2008 were 16 more than NovaUCD registered in 2007, thus accounting for the overall rise in applications. A priority application affords the applicant one year to decide whether to pursue more expensive patent applications in certain individual countries.
NovaUCD also said that it has inked 38 licensing agreements for UCD technologies in the last four years, including 13 last year, compared with eight in 2007.
It also said that last year 11 new ventures completed the organization's Campus Company Development Program. The program, which began in 1996, is a nine-month, part-time training and consultancy initiative that comprises half-day workshops, consultancy meetings, and networking events to assist faculty entrepreneurs with their commercialization efforts.
Micéal Whelan, communications manager for NovaUCD, told BTW this week that about 60 percent of its invention disclosures and priority patent applications in 2008 were in the life sciences and about 40 percent in information and communication technologies.
In addition, five of the 11 new ventures completing the CCDP program in 2008 and seven of the 15 ventures participating in the program this year are in the life sciences; and 40 percent of the 25 companies currently located in its incubator facilities are life-science companies, Whelan said.
NovaUCD did not disclose its licensing revenues in 2008 or in previous years, but the Whelan said that the organization's most successful license to date, which has earned UCD more than €2 million in royalties, relates to the development of a test for bovine spongiform encephalopathy.
That test, which is currently one of three marketed in Europe for diagnosing BSE, originated in the research labs of UCD professor Mark Rogers. A rapid version of the test is now marketed by the Irish company Enfer Scientific, which negotiated a worldwide license for the IP in 1996.
NovaUCD received a shot in the arm in 2007 when Enterprise Ireland, the country’s government-sponsored economic-development agency, awarded it a portion of an €8.5 million grant aimed at boosting its tech-transfer program. Other recipients of the award included University College Cork, the National University of Ireland-Galway, NUI Maynooth, and the Royal College of Surgeons.
The award was the first in a series to be drawn from a €30 million government technology-transfer fund granted to all of Ireland’s universities, technology institutes, and research hospitals through 2011 (see BTW, 4/9/2007).
According to Whelan, the support NovaUCD received from Enterprise Ireland, the exact amount of which has not been disclosed, "is having a huge impact on the pipeline of inventions and innovative ideas coming through the NovaUCD system."
For instance, he said that NovaUCD’s technology-transfer team "significantly expanded" during 2007 by adding three "experienced technology-transfer professionals as well as a legal counsel, contracts, and administrative support."
In addition, last year NovaUCD was able to sponsor two of its project managers to work in the tech-transfer offices at Yale University and the Cleveland Clinic "to gain experience and exposure to international best practice," Whelan said.
The funding also enabled NovaUCD to participate in the inaugural CopenMind Conference and Exhibition, which took place in September 2008 in Copenhagen, Denmark. CopenMind was a match-making event featuring more 100 university and research institute exhibitors and industry/company representatives from around the world with a particular emphasis on cleantech.
NovaUCD is also betting that a 10-year, €650 million alliance inked with neighboring Trinity College Dublin in March, and supported by the Irish government, industry, and other private funders, will provide another major boost to its tech-transfer activity.
That alliance, which created Ireland's largest tech-transfer and academic spinout-development program, will likely focus about 65 percent of its energy on biosciences, Des Fitzgerald, vice president of research at UCD, told BTW at the time (see BTW, 3/25/2009).
One of the main thrusts of the alliance is to specially train 1,000 post-graduates annually and establish 300 new high-tech companies in the next 10 years. However, the pact also created the TCD/UCD Joint Venture in Enterprise Development, in which the two tech-transfer offices will combine forces to create new facilities for pre-competitive research and design, prototyping, and process innovation to boost commercialization.
Whelan said that the alliance hasn't yet spawned any licensing deals of note, but that UCD and TCD have begun discussing ways to jointly support commercialization and bundle and market IP.
"Looking to the future it is important to recognize that the conversion to license deals, new companies, and much-needed employment takes time," he said.
"However, the [alliance] will build on the considerable success of NovaUCD and its TCD counterpart over the last number of years in accelerating the innovation process and in maximizing the impact of the Irish government’s research investment in enterprise development and job creation," Whelan added.