Administration News UH System

UH ranks as top university for intellectual property

As of last fiscal year, UH hit a milestone. It’s the top-ranked public university that does not have a medical school for bringing the highest royalty returns on intellectual property.

Since 2008, the University has made exponential growth from receiving just $1.1 million in licensing income to $16.6 million for the fiscal year of 2013 reported to the Association of University Technology Managers.

The most striking aspect about UH’s growth is that it occurs during the troughs of the Great Recession. According to the Statistics Access for Tech Transfer released by the AUTM, UH saw an increase in its total research expenditures to $84 million in 2008; a $10 million increase from just the year before. Research expenditure totals are made up competitive federal grant awards from agencies such as NASA as well as private gifts and grants.

Constantly increasing research expenditures allows the UH to remain competitive in terms of funding projects as well as taking faculty intellectual property and making it available in the market, subsequently earning royalties for its role in the technology transfer process.

In a UH moment interview, Associate Vice President for Technology Transfer Mark Clarke recently said, “The University has an IP portfolio that covers the whole waterfront …  everything from advanced materials to medical devices, all the way up to software copyright. It is unusual that you see that breadth across multiple sectors.”

Currently, the University has over 40 patent applications listed on the UH technologies catalog located online at the University’s website. The applications range from biopharmaceutical research on improving memories in mammals to energy research regarding renewable energy panels (and the method on which to mount them) on a roof.

The diversity of the patents may explain the sudden increase in royalty revenues over the last several years. According to AUTM, from 2008 to 2009, the University saw a nearly 80 percent increase in license royalty revenue and the University saw a staggering near-400 percent increase in royalties from 2009 to 2010 amounting to $4.35 million. Finally, from 2010 to 2013, royalties have nearly quadrupled, leaving revenue at $16.6 million with two licenses generating more than $1 million in royalties alone.

In comparison, Rice University, another university that does not have a medical school, saw its revenue from royalties peak at $680,137 in 2009 and bottom out in 2011 at $249,111.

The revenue that is earned by UH and its intellectual property is reinvested back into the University, both for research and to strengthen academics.

“The University uses its intellectual property and royalties as a way to invest in and retain talented faculty,” said Sapna Kumar, assistant professor of law at the UH Law Center. “Another benefit of professors having a large IP portfolio is that it helps professors secure additional research grants, which is beneficial to both undergraduate and graduate students with regards to research opportunities.”

The direct impact of the University’s expansive intellectual property portfolio and research can be seen at the Bauer College’s Wolff Center for Entrepreneurship, where students annually work with the division of research to build plans to commercialize inventions that were developed at the University. This year, WCE students won grand prizes for technologies developed at the University such as REEcycle, which focuses on recycling rare earth elements used in computer memory, and other electronic components as well as Wavve, a coating technology that enhances existing water filtration techniques making water potable in underdeveloped countries.

The University’s commitment to reinvesting in its programs has tangible effects, but some students feel that not enough opportunities are being trickled down to the undergraduate level.

“UH is a great university to go to if you want start your graduate research or doctoral work here, but the opportunities for undergraduates to participate in lab research are few and far between — when something does appear, it feels like a rat race,” said biology junior Daniel Garza.

Other students, however, view the situation from a different perspective.

“I’m excited that we get these opportunities here at UH,” said biotechnology sophomore Jennifer Swats. “It is motivating that we get a chance to make something here at the University that has the potential to be used by millions in the city.”

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