The business side of scientific research is complicated, but help is available and opportunities exist to offset national cutbacks in grant funding, Jason Abair, UTMB’s associate vice president of technology transfer, told an informal gathering of campus researchers.

Abair, a patent attorney, said the university plans to provide its own seed money for new campus research in 2012, and intensify its work to help faculty members find commercial markets for technologies they develop. He spoke at a “Grants for Lunch” meeting Dec. 8 for faculty and research staff.
The seed money comes from a $2 million university fund that began with proceeds UTMB received from the sale of one of its own homegrown “start-up” companies.
UTMB’s Office of Technology Transfer specializes in obtaining patents and licensing agreements on behalf of UTMB. The office is designed to establish business partnerships between UTMB researchers and private companies and other universities. Abair said his office welcomes inquiries, and has patent attorneys available to consult on intellectual property issues. He provided some tips and advice:
  • Contact the Office of Technology Transfer if you are asked to sign a confidential disclosure agreement or keep a trade secret. These agreements need legal evaluation and disclosure agreements may only be signed by designated persons.
  • File a patent application before disclosing the invention. Premature mention in a publication or at an academic gathering could jeopardize the chance of getting the patent. The Office of Technology Transfer can assist with all aspects of this process.
  • Examine sponsored research agreements closely because they may contain unacceptable terms. “One sponsor asked for editorial control over any publications arising from their sponsored research,” Abair said. The Office of Technology Transfer can assist with this process.
  • UTMB has one of the nation’s most generous distributions of royalties, he said. Revenue is split three ways: 50 percent to the inventors, 25 percent to the inventors’ laboratories, and 25 percent to the UTMB President’s Fund. “It’s worth noting that the UTMB share of revenue is funneled back into funding research, not into the general fund,” he said.
UTMB and other universities help set up and fund some start-up companies because they provide long-term potential for growth and revenue. Abair said start-ups offer advantages for academic institutions and researchers involved in the companies. “Licensing a technology to outside interests, rather than to a UTMB start-up company, limits control over the future and the directions that the researchers want to take,” Abair said.
UTMB established the $2 million UTMB Health Technology Seed Fund in part with income from the sale of one of its own start-ups, Chrysalis BioTechnology Inc., in 2004. Patents are important for revenue and protection of intellectual property. UTMB filed about 40 patent applications in 2010, Abair said. However, the application process is lengthy and expensive. The average cost to obtain a patent is about $20,000 to $25,000, and action on most applications takes a minimum of two years, he said.