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Beryl Lieff Benderly

“Very Strong” Patenting Activity Boosts Income for Universities, Survey Finds

The patents held by U.S. universities, hospitals, and other research institutions produced a total of $1.5 billion in licensing income and $2.5 billion in overall income for the institutions in 2011, according to a survey of 183 U.S. institutions by the Association of University Technology Managers (AUTM). Up 2.6% and 5% respectively from the previous year, these figures indicate “very strong” activity in licensing products and creating startup companies, “despite continuing economic difficulties,” states a summary issued yesterday by AUTM. 

The survey also noted increases in the number of new patent applications the institutions filed (13,271, up 11% over the previous year), the number of companies they formed (671, up 3%), and the number of already established companies that remained in business (3,927, up 7%). Overall, 591 new products were commercialized in 2011. The products helping to finance universities include, notes the Chronicle of Higher Education, sophisticated medical devices and computer applications and the supermarket favorite Gatorade sports drinks, long a standby of the University of Florida’s income stream.

Northwestern University led the 157 universities that responded to the survey with patent income of almost $192 million, according to a useful chart published by Inside Higher Ed. Though second in patent income, at $182 million, the University of California (UC) system (with its 10 campuses listed as a single entity) was far ahead of the pack in the number of patents issued–343, followed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology with 174. UC also had the highest number of new startups established– 58, to 21 for second-place University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana. 

Researchers who work on campus-based innovations can also often share in the proceeds, whether as patent holders or as principals or key employees of startup companies. Much of this income goes to senior faculty members. Depending on their contribution to a project resulting in a patent, however, junior researchers can also get to participate. Considering that good jobs in academe and many large industrial companies remain hard to find these days, commercialization and patenting therefore appear to offer increasingly significant potential career opportunities that creative and ambitious early-career scientists should consider.