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  May 3, 2004

Tech Transfer Programs Move
University Science To Marketplace

When Professor of Prosthodontics and Operative Dentistry Dr. Martin Freilich and his colleagues discovered a method for promoting oral bone growth, they realized it was an opportunity to help patients who otherwise couldn't have dental implants.

Image: Sample of a dental fiber strand

Dr. Martin Freilich holds a sample of a dental fiber strand from his work.

Photo by Peter Morenus

Michael Newborg, the executive director of the University of Connecticut's Center for Science and Technology Commercialization (CSTC), saw it as a way to bring a University science discovery to the marketplace.

After meeting with Freilich and doing some assessment and evaluation, the CSTC staff began the patent-acquiring process with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. As a result, the patent application is pending, and the technology is being further developed with the hope that commercial firms will also see an opportunity in the new process.

"There are a number of factors that come into play when you're weighing commercial viability," says Newborg. "You have to consider the need for the product or process. You need to think about its patentability, but also who are the potential licensees, and what is the market."

Such technology transfer at UConn has accelerated in recent years. Invention disclosures at the University have risen from a total of 45 in 1999 to between 70 and 80 a year now. Between 12 and 16 new options and licenses are signed annually, and gross revenues from tech transfer have risen to $725,000.

The patents represent research and discovery in the physical sciences as well as the bio-sciences. At the Storrs campus, for example, James Fenton, H. Russell Kunz, and Jung-Chou Lin, received a patent for "Membrane Electrode Assemblies Using Ionic Composite Membranes," a critical process for fuel cell technologies; and George and Catherine Wu, Health Center faculty, patented "Propagation of Human Hepatocytes in Non-Human Mammals," a process that allows for growth of human liver cells in lab animals.

The University has begun several initiatives aimed at bringing bench to the marketplace:

  • The CSTC works with faculty and administrators on all campuses to talk about the need for, and the advantages of, technology commercialization. The center's staff specialize in evaluating inventions from the physical sciences, such as chemistry, engineering, and material science; and inventions from the life sciences including biotechnology, human health techniques and molecular targets. They also assist with patenting and business development.

  • The Research and Development Corporation, a subsidiary of the UConn Foundation, evaluates technologies that can become potential businesses, recruits venture capital sources to start the businesses, and helps provide consulting sources to get the businesses going.

  • The Technology Incubation Program was established to assist and accelerate the successful establishment and development of entrepreneurial companies. Incubator space is available in Storrs and Farmington and is planned for Avery Point. Ian Hart, a professor of animal science and associate dean for research and advanced studies in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, was appointed director for industrial initiatives for the program in 2002.

To celebrate the University's achievements in tech transfer to date, a President's Patent Awards Dinner is scheduled for May 11. The evening will honor faculty members whose inventions were given U.S. patents in 2003.

"The University of Connecticut, as an institution, has significant untapped potential for placing its inventions in the marketplace and achieving reasonable returns for its activity," says Newborg. "The CSTC stands ready to assist researchers in this endeavor."