In 2017, the UT System ranked third in the world on a list of universities receiving the most United States patents, with a total of 219 granted to UT researchers.
The list was published by the National Academy of Inventors and the Intellectual Property Owners Association. Special counsel Michelle LeCointe, an Austin-based lawyer who has handled patent cases for the UT System said there are various factors contributing to UT’s large output of patented inventions. One of those factors is the unusual way UT incentivizes inventors using money from licensing patented innovations to companies, she said.
“After all of the costs for getting a patent are deducted, usually there’s a lot of money left over,” LeCointe said. “UT will give about half of that to the inventors and tends to give a pretty good chunk of it to the departments as well.”
The UT System moved up five spots from its eighth place ranking in 2016.
Les Nichols is the interim director of the Office of Technology Commercialization, through which researchers file patents. He said the expertise of UT’s faculty accounts for the vast output of patents.
“They are great researchers known to be experts in their fields to a certain extent,” Nichols said. “It’s very competitive.”
Nichols said there are two options of successfully marketing patents: doing it through an existing company or joining with investors to form a start-up. The Office of Technology Commercialization decides which path inventors take. Nichols said more groundbreaking, “disruptive” technology that would be difficult to incorporate into an existing company is often licensed to start-ups.
Everett Stone, a molecular biosciences research assistant professor who was named Emerging Inventor of the Year by the Office of Technology Commercialization in 2017, said researchers at UT know they should go to the office if they believe their inventions could be patented.
“If you know you have a technology that is potentially commercializable, it is known that you should go run it by (the office) if you have potential technology that (UT) would like to protect,” Everett said.
Nichols said the office managing this process is helpful to researchers, because it lets them focus on their work.
“We’re here to serve them, to make processes as simple as possible for them where they fill out a disclosure form and have a couple of meetings with us,” Nichols said. “We take the legal issues off their table to let them focus on their professor stuff.”