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Booming tech transfer

Copyright © 2013 Albuquerque Journal

The University of New Mexico’s technology transfer program reached new heights in fiscal year 2013, which ended June 30.

The Science and Technology Corp., UNM’s technology commercialization office, issued a record number of licenses to companies to take university inventions to market this year.

It also reported a record number of new startup companies forming to commercialize UNM technology, a record level of invention disclosures by faculty to feed the tech-transfer pipeline, and the highest levels of patent applications and number of patents approved in a single year.

“We had a great year,” said STC President and CEO Lisa Kuuttila. “It reflects a growing ecosystem and changing culture at UNM in favor of technology commercialization. The business community is also embracing our efforts, and the economy is turning around, which helps us, too.”

The university earned $2.19 million from licenses and patents last year. That’s down from $2.92 million in FY 2012 and only about half what the university earned in FY 2010, when tech-transfer income peaked at $3.98 million.

Kuuttila said income had spiked in recent years because of STC legal action to force some large semiconductor companies to pay royalties for infringement of UNM patents. With those royalties recovered, earnings are tending down again.

But even so, income is still twice as high as in FY 2009, the year before UNM sued for patent infringement.

A growing number of private investors are seeking UNM technology. The university issued 63 licenses last year. That’s up 37 percent from FY 2012 and three times the number of licenses signed five years ago.

Apart from STC’s aggressive marketing efforts, the jump in licenses reflects a robust stream of inventions flowing into the commercialization pipeline.

Faculty invention disclosures grew 11 percent last year, patent applications were up 30 percent, and the number of patents issued by the U.S. patent office rose by 65 percent.

Kuuttila said UNM researchers are reaching out much more to the STC to move discoveries to market.

“The disclosures and patent applications show a growing willingness by faculty to work with us and embrace technology commercialization, especially since these activities are above and beyond their regular teaching and research responsibilities,” Kuuttila said.

Meanwhile, nine new companies launched last year to market UNM technologies, up from seven in FY 2012 and just five in FY 2011.

A total of 63 companies have formed in the last decade to commercialize UNM inventions, about half of which remain in Albuquerque.

One company, Tyrosine Pharma — which is developing a new peptide to protect brain cells against damage from stroke — received a new $250,000 investment in July from the New Mexico Angels to begin planning for pre-clinical tests on laboratory mice.