Researchers strive to meet higher standards for patent applications

Media Credit: Hatchet File Photo

Michael Keidar, associate professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, left, works on a cold plasma cancer therapy device with post-doctorate student Alexey Shashurin.

Updated March 11, 2014 at 3:40 p.m.

Media Credit: Hatchet File Photo
Michael Keidar, associate professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, left, works on a cold plasma cancer therapy device with post-doctorate student Alexey Shashurin.

Researchers looking to patent their inventions under GW’s name have faced tougher standards lately as University officials push them to prove that their ideas can make it in the market.

Five years ago, the University applied for patents for every professor with an invention, said Steve Kubisen, the director of the Office of Technology Transfer. But now he said he asks researchers across GW to think harder about the potential for commercial success.

“It’s not just saying ‘go do this,’ and spending money. It’s taking time from the faculty and from the office to put these things together,” Kubisen said.

That means that even as GW looks to lift its research profile, it’s putting out fewer patent applications. GW applied for 17 patents last year, down from 28 in 2011.

Those ideas have seen mixed rates of success, ranging from 23 percent four years ago to 35 percent last year.

Since 2012, the amount of money GW has earned from the licensing has skyrocketed from $16,200 to $118,400. That’s still behind many major research universities and competitor schools like New York University and Duke Universities, who pull in tens of millions per year from license income.

Each invention is reviewed by a panel of officers before it can be filed for a patent application. Those officials judge an idea’s usefulness, novelty and obviousness.

Jason Zara, an associate professor of electrical and computer engineering, said patents are the most obvious way researchers can prove they are significantly affecting their field.

“As an engineer, having patents is one way to show that you are doing cutting edge work that has true novelty and impact,” Zara said.

Akos Vertes, a professor of chemistry who has developed laser technologies for metabolic imaging of plant organs, said he has seen the technology transfer office has become far more in tune with the needs of inventors over the last decade. He said the heavy investments in adding staff members has helped him talk more about how his goals can align with those of the University.

He said the office lacked a system for collecting ideas for patent applications from professors a decade ago, but that adding staff to the tech transfer office had made it easier for inventors. While only a small group of faculty apply for patents each year, he said those professors are better at working with the University.

“Once the [Office of Technology Transfer] and faculty started to learn about each other, everything else just fell into place,” Vertes said. “It is a sign of a much more prominent presence that GW has on the patent scene,” he said.

This post was updated to reflect the following correction:
The Hatchet incorrectly paraphrased Akos Vertes as stating that the University still lacked a system for collecting application. In fact, he had said that the University lacked that system a decade ago.

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