The Austin-American Statesman, Page B6: "UT altering research, patent rules for faculty"

By Lilly Rockwell

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

The University of Texas is revamping its commercialization policies to make it easier for faculty to turn their research into products and companies — and to elevate UT's reputation as a top research university.

The changes could help UT attract more high-profile talent while enabling faculty members to profit from their research.

The university, among other changes, will make clear that faculty members have complete ownership of intellectual property they develop outside the university, such as while doing consulting work.

Ted Rappaport

The university also will decide within 45 days, instead of the current 180, whether it will pursue its own patent on faculty research or let the faculty member seek the patent.

The changes are a response to criticism from some faculty members and entrepreneurs in biotechnology and other fields that UT's current system is slow and bureaucratic and squelches entrepreneurship.

Speeding the commercialization of potentially lucrative faculty research could also help the school make money.

Texas schools now lag behind other universities that earn hundreds of millions of dollars a year from licensing their faculty's work.

In 2004, Texas public universities collected $38 million from faculty inventions but spent about $17 million in administrative and legal costs doing it.

The UT System's income per research dollar spent is half the national average.

UT-Austin spent a year studying how to improve its policies. It invited about 30 business leaders, including economic development strategist Pike Powers, as well as venture capital investors and faculty members, to craft a new policy.

The UT System governing board approved the new rules this month. UT-Austin is finalizing its new policies, said President William Powers Jr.

The new clarity on outside work will help faculty members who do consulting work, which in turn can help the university.

"We think it's good if our faculty gets out and stays connected with the community," Powers said. "Nobody will want somebody to go out and consult who doesn't have the intellectual property."

The new system also will be more transparent, allowing investors and companies outside UT and those inside the university a shot at tracking and understanding the patenting process.

"In the past, there wasn't a lot of transparency," said Ted Rappaport, a wireless network expert who teaches at UT's Engineering School and who led the committee that advised Powers on the changes.

"The professors or students didn't know what was happening with their invention idea, and the outside investors and licensees were not given access to the originators of the ideas. Having transparency on how we do things and standard terms is really important."

Powers said the changes won't benefit just the university or the inventor. The state's economy stands to benefit if UT can churn out more patents that generate jobs and companies.

Universities see creating wealth and jobs as an extension of their duty to serve society.

"It will enable a culture change and make it clear that UT encourages this and wants it to be part of our mission," Rappaport said. "Now we are able to recruit faculty and students that enable them to meet this mission.

"I came to UT with the belief that this is a university that wants to encourage entrepreneurs. This is a big step forward."

lrockwell@statesman.com; 445-3819

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