Moving from Mind to Marketplace
New Perspective for Industry Partnerships
North Carolina State University has a grand tradition of working with — and spurring new — businesses and industry. Building upon that expertise, the university has new, streamlined processes to establish even more strategic collaborations regarding intellectual property.
“Industry is increasingly interested in forming deeper relationships that build long-term value for both partners,” explains Vice Chancellor Terri Lomax. “NC State has aligned our dynamic innovation ecosystem to cultivate these industry relationships and speed innovation.”
Billy Houghteling, executive director of the Office of Technology Transfer, notes the university is responding to changes in the broader economy. “We have opportunities to fill some of the research and development gaps that industry partners have.”
The new partnership model retains the university’s intellectual property rights, as well as those of faculty, staff, and students working on projects. “Our goal is to allow our industry partners to benefit from new inventions while ensuring that consumers get access to new products and services,” he adds.
A first step is the ease of access for interested companies. The Concierge that has worked well in the past year will have a new home with OTT, the Centennial Campus Partnership Office, and several other programs in the same building to provide easier interaction with each other and with new partners. “NC State’s Springboard Innovation Center will advance our partnership goals,” Houghteling notes.
Another approach is to remove ambiguity as potential partners begin to explore working with NC State, especially in early stages of development of new inventions and processes. “We have established preset terms and conditions relating to future license agreements,” he says. “We can start the discussion with a partner based on terms that are more industry friendly than they have been historically.”
Having those intellectual property parameters and initial costs presented up front will attract new partners who have not engaged universities previously. “Our mission and goals are distinct from those of a partner, but they are still compatible and complimentary in many ways,” he adds. “Moving away from partnerships based on transactions toward one based on mutual benefit is a better model for all involved.”
Initial response from industry partners has been positive. In fact, it is a “win-win situation,” according to Andrew Prokopetz, patent counsel for Bayer CropScience LP, who is among those who have reviewed the updates with Houghteling and other university officials.
“Industry gets a product out to market — and the university gets royalties,” he explains.
A potential example would be if his company has a new active ingredient. Before moving to production, additional research is needed regarding application rates and potential effects, both positive and negative. “The industry partner doesn’t want to lose control over a patent portfolio,” Prokopetz adds.
The company could use the standard guidelines to contract with the university and agree on the royalty to come back to NC State if the initial product and any follow-up inventions are commercialized.
The quick start-up is better than spending many hours writing a detailed agreement in advance, when, in many cases, the research may not result in the marketable product that was initially envisioned.
While the new process will be in place for research sponsored by industry, there are other mechanisms that advance early-stage inventions, Houghteling notes.
For example, when the National Science Foundation funds a center with multiple university and industry partners, the intellectual property rights related to research results and new discoveries are distinctly spelled out in the center agreements.
NC State will continue to file for patents on faculty inventions that are developed using federal or state funding. These patents will then be available for either licensing to existing companies or for start-up company formation.
Eastman Innovation Center Planned
The opening of the Eastman Innovation Center in early 2013 will mark a novel approach to interdisciplinary research on NC State’s Centennial Campus.
After a national search for a university partner, Eastman Chemical Company has signed a multiyear agreement with NC State to conduct joint, cutting-edge research in chemistry, materials science, design and other disciplines.
Eastman will provide $10 million in grants to NC State researchers over six years in support of the Eastman Chemical Center of Excellence and its new laboratory.
“This agreement demonstrates NC State’s commitment to working with corporate partners on transformative research projects to solve the grand challenges of society,” says Chancellor Randy Woodson. “It also provides NC State researchers — and their graduate and undergraduate students — with a number of exciting new opportunities to pursue their specific interests.”
Greg Nelson, chief technology officer at Eastman agrees. “Our partnership launches a world-class, open innovation collaboration with a leading university. That relationship will help us bring differentiated new ideas, technologies and materials from early stage research to the market more quickly than traditional approaches.”
The university sought to ease the collaborative process, says Vice Chancellor Terri Lomax. “From the very beginning, we want to demonstrate that collaborating with NC State is unlike working with any other university.”
Bob Clemens, Eastman’s vice president of corporate technology, says the pre-established costs and intellectual property agreements will encourage new projects and easy interactions.
At least six colleges across NC State will participate in interdisciplinary research projects, initially to be selected by a steering team with an equal number of Eastman and NC State researchers. Departments involved include: materials science and engineering; chemistry; chemical and biomolecular engineering; textile engineering, chemistry and science; forest biomaterials; and graphic and industrial design.
Health Monitors on the Go
The tiniest of materials will be the key to wearable, self-powered, health monitoring sensors and devices to be developed in a new national center based at NC State.
At least 30 industry partners will work with the National Science Foundation Nanosystems Engineering Research Center (ERC) for Advanced Self-Powered Systems of Integrated Sensors and Technologies (ASSIST).
“Texas Instruments is very excited about the research and commercialization prospects for the ASSIST ERC,” notes R. Allen Bowling, manager of research and consortia for analog technology development at the company. “Progress in integrated sensor technologies, including ultra-low power systems and self-powered systems, will enable a great leap forward in the application of electronics for enhanced healthcare and security.”
The devices could be worn on the chest like a patch, on the wrist like a watch, as a cap that fits over a tooth, or in other ways, depending on the biological system that’s being monitored.
“Currently there are many devices out there that monitor health in different ways,” explains ASSIST Director Veena Misra, an engineering professor. “What’s unique about our technologies is the fact that they are powered by the human body, so they don’t require battery charging.”
An initial five-year, $18.5 million NSF grant will fund research, education and outreach programs. The center will be headquartered on Centennial Campus in the Larry K. Monteith Engineering Research Center.
The center will have faculty and facilities at three partner institutions: Florida International University, Pennsylvania State University and the University of Virginia. Additional researchers are at affiliated universities, such as UNC-Chapel Hill and the University of Michigan, and in Australia, South Korea and Japan.
With the addition of ASSIST, NC State holds the distinction of being the only university currently leading two active NSF ERCs, among the largest and most prestigious grants made by the engineering directorate of the federal agency. The NSF FREEDM Systems Center is also led by NC State. ASSIST will offer an undergraduate concentration and a master’s certificate program in nanotechnology, as well as a personalized professional-development program for graduate students.
Schools in North Carolina, Virginia, Florida and Pennsylvania, will bring nanosystems engineering into classrooms and allows teens to participate in ASSIST research.