CORVALLIS, Ore. – Oregon State University’s rapid ascent as a research university and catalyst for laboratory innovation and business creation led it in the last academic year to expand its technology transfer area to the Office for Commercialization and Corporate Development, adding staff, broadening its mission and energizing efforts to license existing technologies.
Those efforts paid off with licensing royalty income of more than $4 million for fiscal year ’11 – a $1.5- million, 63 percent increase over last year and the first time that OSU technology income has surpassed the $4 million mark. And that is only the beginning, university leaders say, for an institution based in an environment so creative that its hometown last year was named “America’s most innovative city” by a scientific study conducted at Los Alamos National Laboratory.
That designation is based on the Corvallis metro area’s role as the national leader in patent filings per capita – an area in which it has long been near the top. Recent passage of the Leahy-Smith America Invents Act, which is expected to be signed today by President Obama in a White House ceremony, may help further Corvallis and OSU’s success in this area through its multiple enhancements to the patent process.
“The royalties we earn are paid by companies that are licensing our innovations, creating products and services, hiring workers and making money,” said Vice President for Research Rick Spinrad, noting that the bulk of licensing income is funneled back into research projects at OSU, spurring further knowledge creation and economic impact. “This is a very tangible way that we’re contributing to our state’s economic success and stimulating economic recovery in the private sector.”
OSU President Edward J. Ray was one of 130 research university presidents this past school year who signed a letter to U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke promising a deeper commitment to encouraging faculty and student innovation and entrepreneurship, promoting technology transfer and facilitating university-industry collaboration.
The expansion of the Office for Commercialization and Corporate Development was reflective of that commitment, as is OSU’s ongoing goal of growing the amount of sponsored research support it earns from private-sector sources. That support grew from $5.2 million to $5.4 million last fiscal year, and now accounts for more than 2 percent of OSU’s overall research funding.
“After preparing highly educated graduates ready to make a difference in the workplace, the transfer of technology into the marketplace is perhaps the second greatest contribution that major research universities make to the economic well-being of our nation,” said Ray. “Oregon State’s focus on sustainability coupled with deep expertise in engineering, agriculture science, forestry and related areas means that what’s coming out of our labs is often of great interest to investors, business developers and the private sector generally speaking.”
The “active” portfolio of OSU licenses is increasingly diverse, with 101 licenses spanning the gamut from mass spectrometry to mold yeast inhibitors. One of its most recent successes is a new pressure-sensitive adhesive technology developed by Wood Sciences professor Kaichang Li. Licensed earlier this year to Avery Dennison Corporation, the adhesive technology will now be developed further in the form of potential commercial products. Pressure-sensitive adhesives are used in goods ranging from labels to wound dressings to sticky notes to postage stamps.
About one-third of last year’s royalty growth came from licensing of space-age “transparent transistor” technology to businesses using it for development of new flat-screen displays. Another 15 percent came from the success of growers using OSU-bred wheat – an area where the university, which bred the top two varieties of wheat currently grown in the Pacific Northwest, has already experienced strong success. Still additional income growth came from licensing of technology used to make Braille printers.
Commercialization and Corporate Development Director Brian Wall said his office is working hard to connect investors with technologies of interest at OSU. The many points along the path to the marketplace where a business idea or innovation can stall can be challenging, particularly in a tough economy, so the new support OSU has mustered for these activities is essential.
“Even ideas with obvious value sometimes struggle to find a way forward,” said Wall. “We’re fortunate to have an experienced group of professionals providing assistance for our faculty researchers, and we have every reason to believe that our progress will continue this year.”