A Helping Hand

Whether you’re a researcher developing a fan-proof goal post, stronger car tire, or better imaging device, Purdue’s Office of Technology Commercialization (OTC) can play a role. The office serves Purdue through the “commercialization of its intellectual property,” whether patents, copyright, trademarks, or tangible research property.

OTC came into being in 1999 when the university vowed to undertake a greater effort to educate its faculty on intellectual property and support Purdue’s economic development initiatives with an emphasis on faculty startup companies. This was driven by newly appointed President Martin C. Jischke, who sought to engage with the community and partner in economic development.

Though reborn in 1999, the office had existed for over 20 years as the Office of Technology Transfer. Today, OTC, which is a division of the Purdue Research Foundation, works with faculty, staff and student entrepreneurs to provide information on university policies related to intellectual property and help them navigate the path it takes to turn a concept into a product or service.

Here’s how it works:

  1. Researcher visits OTC and “discloses” his or her idea. This step is known as invention disclosure. OTC handles more than 250 of these annually, about half of which come from the College of Engineering.
  2. OTC deems the concept viable enough and files a provisional patent application to protect it.
  3. After two to five years of U.S. Patent and Trade Office adjudication, a patent is issued in the U.S. If, for example, someone files a patent in chemical or electrical engineering, this process can cost between $25,000 and $50,000. Researchers hope to make that money back in royalties. 
  4. For protection abroad, researchers must file patent applications in the desired countries at a cost of about $200,000 per patent or around $500,000 for global coverage.
  5. OTC licensing associates—there are six (electrical and computer engineering, biology, food science, chemistry, mechanical engineering, and pharmacy)—work with the researcher to determine key markets and engage the researcher with people who understand the technology and are willing to invest.
  6. For the lucky few, the result is a startup backed by investors or an angel. In all, about 20 percent of the invention disclosures make it this far, have patents issued, and are licensed.

A U.S. patent protection is good for 20 years from the filing date if renewed at 7½ , 11½, and 14½ years at a cost of several thousand dollars.

Of the thousands of patents filed every year, less than 5 percent lead to commercially successful products. And even that doesn’t spell success. Of new U.S.-based technology businesses, only 25 percent survive the first year.

Not all faculty entrepreneurs pass through OTC. Some build their companies independently while some arrived at Purdue with companies already intact. For those who do engage OTC’s services, the gratitude comes quickly.

Chemical engineer Hugh Hillhouse, whose research recently landed investors and incorporated in April as a limited liability corporation, was effusive in his praise.

“None of this would have happened without senior technology manager Mark Krivchenia. He was extremely helpful and his ability to really understand the key aspects of the technology is what made it easier to market. I was inspired by the end goal nine years ago and filed an invention disclosure two years ago, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it will happen. OTC has been critical in making it come together.”

Simran Trana, director of OTC, is grateful for the kind words but is cautious in taking full credit.

“We have to engage the scientist with people who understand the technology and are willing to invest, but it’s the faculty who has, in the end, to sell it. Especially in the case of very early-stage technology, the investor has to have complete faith in the technologist, who is the scientist,” she says.

–Linda Terhune