Big Patents on Campus-The 2002 University Research Scorecard shows that even in lean times, innovation pays.

What was true for 15th-century Florence, 20th-century Detroit, and turn-of-the-century Palo Alto, has also been true for U.S. universities for the past two decades: Innovation drives economic growth. Thanks to the Bayh-Dole Act, which was passed in 1980, academic institutions are legally able to profit from the technology they develop.

By Alan Leo Technology Review

Originally a boon to medical schools and engineering programs, Bayh-Dole increasingly benefits new fields of research, says Judith Scholz, who directs the University of Manitoba’s industry liaison office, and is president of the Association of University Technology Managers. “There’s much more going on in information technology and software, and for many institutions that’s relatively new,” she says. But tech transfer offices must be nimble, she says; where a medical device often takes a decade to reach the market, software innovations may be obsolete before the ink on their licensing agreement is dry. Interdisciplinary fields such as bioinformatics pose additional problems, she adds, to technology managers who are unsure how—or what—to patent.

As endowments struggle, schools look to technology transfer offices to bring in blockbuster deals—the multi-million dollar royalties for the next cancer drug, the 10 percent equity in the startup that conquers its industry—the kind of deal that covers an entire department’s research budget, and then some. Atta Kan, who directs Dartmouth College’s technology transfer office in Hanover, NH, says the school’s tech transfer spoils skyrocketed to $67 million—almost three quarters of the college’s research budget. Kan says that figure is due almost entirely to Dartmouth’s sale of Medarex stock, a biotech company to which the school licensed antibody patents in exchange for equity in 1987.

The University of California system tops this year’s Tech Transfer Riches report with $261,522,000 in license income for FY 2000, more than triple its income for each of the previous two years. The increase was due entirely to a $200 million payment from biotech giant Genentech, settling a case involving patents to the genetic makeup of human growth hormone.

UC officials call the $261 million figure a one-time “bump,” and predict license revenues will return to pre-2000 levels—or below. “In general, with the downturn in the economy, there has been some downturn in the licensing area,” says Alan Bennett, the University of California system’s executive director for research administration and technology transfer. “Small companies that make up a large portion of our licensees have generated fewer resources for new product development.”

But the weak economy makes technology transfer not only more difficult, but also more important, says Scholz. To make up for reduced endowment income, schools look to tech transfer offices to generate revenue. Surrounding communities, in turn, look to universities to promote regional growth through start-up companies. And that puts schools in a difficult position, given their primary mission of teaching, research and community service, she says. “There is increased pressure, and in some cases, for good reason,” she says. “But in other cases, you say ‘is that really what we’re here to do?’”

The two scorecards listed on the bottom of the original article lists the U.S. universities with the most active patent and licensing activity. The first, provided by CHI Research of Hadden Heights, NJ, uses a number of formulas to exhibit the patenting strength of each school. The second list, provided by the Association of University Technology Managers, tallies what those patent mean in dollar figures. Find out for yourself how the U.S.’s top research institutions stack up.

Go to the URl listed below for the scorecards
University Research Scorecard 2002
Tech Transfer Riches 2002

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