The invention that keeps on giving

A New Mexico Tech researcher invented the nicotine patch, which has generated tens of millions of dollars over the decades it has been in use. This shows the application of a typical nicotine patch. (Courtesy of Wikimedia)
A New Mexico Tech researcher invented the nicotine patch, which has generated tens of millions of dollars over the decades it has been in use. This shows the application of a typical nicotine patch. (Courtesy of Wikimedia)

The New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology may lag behind other universities in technology commercialization, but it has scored some huge successes, starting with the nicotine patch.

Frank Etscorn, a retired behavioral psychologist at New Mexico Tech who specialized in studying nausea, created the original nicotine patch in the early 1980s after he accidentally splashed liquid nicotine onto his arm while conducting research in his lab.

It quickly made him nauseous, leading to a “Eureka!” moment, where he realized that a patch could be used to deliver nicotine through the skin to help smokers quit the habit.

Etscorn and the university secured the first U.S. patent for the product in 1986. It was later licensed to Ciba-Geigy Pharmaceuticals of Switzerland to make and market it, with Etscorn and the university sharing royalties.

The amount earned remains confidential, but by 2008, when the U.S. patent expired, New Mexico Tech had received “well into the tens of millions of dollars,” said Vice President for Research and Economic Development Van Romero.

“We’re still earning royalties in Europe and Asia where patents remain in effect,” Romero told the Journal . “It’s been a boon for students, because the royalty money has always been used for scholarships. In addition, it brought a lot of good publicity to the university in regard to how intellectual property can provide an economic benefit to the school.”

Meanwhile, New Mexico Tech is benefitting now from another commercialization success, this time a cybersecurity firm that launched in Albuquerque in 2006.

The university has a 50 percent stake in Computational Network Security & Enterprise Solutions LLC, which provides network security and digital forensic technology services to businesses.

The company has grown rapidly, from $74,000 in its first full year of operations in 2007 to $2.033 million in 2012, and more than $3 million last year, said New Mexico Tech President Dan Lopez.

“That company started from nothing and now has 22 employees,” he said. “It’s an excellent example of the potential for technology transfer.”

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