Hopkins strengthens effort to earn from faculty discoveries

Two offices are created to seek venture capital, oversee patents, licenses

January 09, 2003|By M. William Salganik | M. William Salganik,SUN STAFF

Continuing efforts to patent and license the discoveries of its faculty, Johns Hopkins University announced yesterday a new office that will coordinate activities from all of its schools.

A venture capital expert also has been hired to launch a second office to work with businesses, university officials said.

William P. Tew, an assistant dean at the medical school who headed technology-transfer activities there, is to head the university-wide Office of Licensing and Technology Development.

Nora Zietz, who directed the Abell Venture Fund of the Abell Foundation, began work this week as director of the new Enterprise Development Office.

Hopkins, once seen as lagging behind other research universities in developing commercial applications for its discoveries, has stepped up its efforts over the past decade.

"We're certainly trying to fix it," Theodore O. Poehler, vice provost for research, who oversees the two new offices, said yesterday. "We're making the right moves."

A survey by the Association of University Technology Managers ranked Hopkins 16th among American universities with $14.4 million in licensing income for fiscal year 2000, the most recent data available.

Poehler said that the highest-ranking schools often have one blockbuster patent bringing in multimillions but that Hopkins hasn't had such a "big hit" yet.

Tew pointed to a survey of 20,000 licensing agreements held by universities that found that only 120 produced annual revenue of more than $1 million each.

"It's like farming," Poehler said. "You keep planting these things, and eventually you're going to get the right crop."

Tew said Hopkins gets 250 to 300 reports a year of discoveries by its faculty that have licensing potential. Hopkins seeks "provisional patents," which can be obtained quickly and cheaply, on about 80 percent of those. The provisional patents protect the invention until the university can investigate its commercial potential.

Only about 20 percent wind up with patents and licensing agreements. The research necessary to obtain international patents can cost a quarter of a million dollars, Tew said. In all, he said, Hopkins spends about $3.5 million a year on its efforts.

His new office combines existing efforts on the medical and Homewood campuses, and also will work with other university divisions, such as the Peabody Institute. The Applied Physics Laboratory will continue to have a separate technology transfer office.

Combining the medical and Homewood offices, Poehler said, is "catching up with the way research is actually done these days," with interdisciplinary teams.

For example, Tew said, medical and engineering faculty have worked together on new ways to do robotic surgery.

As for the new enterprise development office, Poehler said, "We have not really had a very good interface with industry."

Zietz, who began work Monday, said her office would serve as a point of contact for industry in areas other than licensing, such as sponsored research.

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