University of Maryland finds key to increasing Tech Transfer is cooperation

The University of Maryland, Baltimore has executed eight patent licenses so far this fiscal year, three more than in 2002 — a sign that the school may be on its way to becoming a major research institution.

Tim Hyland
Baltimore Business Journal in

The university’s rising success in tech transfer stands to bring more royalty dollars and prestige to the university but could also have positive spillover for the local economy as business capitalizes on university breakthroughs, UMB officials said. The success also marks a change from the recent past, when low budgets and cumbersome policies made tech transfer at the university difficult.

"This is how Silicon Valley got started," said Joseph Lakowicz, a professor in the department of biochemistry and molecular biology. "The nature of this is that there will be a lot of partnering. There will be a lot of dollars coming into the state as a result of this licensing."

UMB pulled in an all-time high $305 million in grant and contract funding in fiscal 2002, an increase of 20 percent over 2001 funding and the largest annual percentage increase in funding since 1990. Officials expect another increase in total funding for fiscal 2003, and the school says its increased output of commercial partnerships is a direct result. By the end of the third quarter this year, UMB had already executed six licenses, surpassing the five that were done in fiscal 2002.

"It’s been a complete change," Lakowicz said. "The university didn’t have a good tech transfer office. There was just no mechanism there. I think that’s changed completely now. It used to be a hurdle getting through the tech transfer office. Now they’re my friends."

Lakowicz said such agreements have been made easier by the university’s commitment to tech transfer, he said. Starting about two years ago, the university made a concerted effort to find more funding and streamline tech transfer policies.

UMB officials, while pleased with their progress in 2003, hope to do even better in 2004.

"Our goal next year is to double it again," said James L. Hughes, the university’s vice president for research and development. "We’re doing well. But there’s certainly room to grow."

The licenses serve as long-term investments for a university, as royalty dollars are bound to return as breakthroughs find a commercial niche. There are other benefits, too.

Through one of its recent license agreements, reached with Prowess Inc. of Danville, Calif., UMB will receive four pieces of radiation equipment valued at $1 million as well as royalties. UMB officials say that equipment will benefit thousands of patients at the University of Maryland Medical Center.

Prowess has agreed to incorporate technology developed at UMB into its radiation equipment. UMB’s Office of Research and Development estimates the market for the technology and other similar technologies at $48 million. Through the agreement, UMB hopes to grab up to 8 percent of the market.

UMB has also licensed a system that can monitor whether patients comply with directions in taking medication. Patients would be given a nontoxic substance along with their medication that could later be detected through the skin using an infrared light. The technology would be especially important for patients suffering from HIV or tuberculosis or those in rehabilitation programs, UMB officials said.

Under the license agreement reached with Sequella Inc. of Rockville, the product will move into the human testing stage.

Lakowicz said the Sequella agreement is a model for how the university and business can interact. The company approached the university with a problem — the difficulties in tracking patient compliance with medication — and researchers then worked with fellow researchers to find a solution.

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