University of Montana’s Tech Transfer Notes – Inventions and Innovations
Dr. Geoffrey Nicholson, inventor of the Post-It™ note, once said, “Research is the transformation of
money into knowledge. Innovation is the transformation of knowledge into money.”
From the perspective of technology transfer, this statement succinctly captures the need for both time
and money to transform inventions (resulting from years of research) into life saving and life improving
innovations. Consider a slightly more detailed scenario: an idea is born and then proven through years
of scientific research; practical applications are developed for the idea, resulting in an invention; the
invention is transferred to an enterprise focused on commercialization; the enterprise invests resources
to develop an innovative product; and finally the product is brought to market to generate revenue, of
which part may be reinvested to produce more ideas…
This obviously isn’t an automatic process, and unfortunately only a few inventions are ever converted
into innovations. Some sources suggest that profits are realized on less than five percent of all patents.
So you might be wondering, what’s the good news? Well, among this small percentage of successes are
several blockbusters that generate billions of dollars in annual revenue. Furthermore, and from the
perspective of higher education, universities have been involved with successful innovations such as the
hepatitis B vaccine, cisplatin and carboplatin, synthetic penicillin and the avian flu vaccine.
case studies provide insight into a few additional success stories:
Nicotine Patch: University of California, Los Angeles
Highlights how a 1981 conversation between a UCLA faculty member and a physician (biological
brothers) eventually led to Novartis’ 1999 release of the over-the-counter version of Habitrol®. For
The University of California’s Strawberry Licensing Program
Highlights a multimillion dollar licensing program built around newly developed strawberry cultivars
developed for the cool coastal Mediterranean and arid subtropical regions of California. For more,
Building Healthy Forests with Early-Stage Propagation: University of Saskatchewan
Highlights CellFor’s use of University of Saskatchwan somatic embryogenesis intellectual property to
reduce production costs and enhance resistance to disease and pests in wood production. For more,
A Better Tuberculosis Vaccine: Aeras and Vanderbilt University
Highlights joint efforts of the Gates Foundation and the Aeras Global TB Vaccine Foundation to develop
a new TB vaccine based on Vanderbilt’s delivery system technology. For more,
The diversity of paths (toward success) among these stories confirms the fact that higher education
technology transfer (and commercialization) isn’t always a straightforward process and doesn’t typically
happen overnight. This reality has recently been a hot topic on college campuses and in the press, where
universities are being asked to “do more” with technology transfer given the state of the nation’s
From an administrative perspective, most higher education institutions agree that there is
room for improvement and are piloting efforts to enhance the technology transfer activities associated
with their research programs. Here at The University of Montana I’m also working on ways to streamline
processes for transferring the University’s inventions into innovations. I’ll being sharing some of those
ideas with you in the coming months through these notes. I’m also very interested in hearing your
suggestions on the subject, so feel free to send me an email with your thoughts!
While brainstorming, please keep in mind that the first step in The University of Montana’s technology
transfer process is already in place – disclosure. If you have an idea (or invention), I encourage you to
complete the University’s two page downloadable invention disclosure form
(http://www.umt.edu/research/techtransfer/Resources/default.aspx) and submit it to my attention via
email. Let me know if you have any questions.
One final comment: The slides from my (20 minute) Spring 2010 Departmental Presentation have been
posted on the web – http://www.umt.edu/research/techtransfer/Resources/Presentations.aspx.
contact Colleen Hoffman at 243-6677 if you’re interested in scheduling a time for me to speak with your
department or center.
Joe Fanguy, Ph.D.
Director of Technology Transfer
The University of Montana
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