By David Hinckley
Gubernatorial candidate Jon Huntsman, Jr. announced Thursday his support for an amendment that would allow state universities to purchase company stock in exchange for intellectual property.
“If Amendment Two passes in November, Utah will significantly enhance its prospects for economic development,” he said in the release.
At present, the state constitution forbids any public institution from taking stock in private companies. However, the amendment up for a vote in November would make an exception for state colleges and universities when “equity interest” is given exchange for the sale or licensing of intellectual property.
The announcement put Huntsman in the same boat as Democratic Party rival Scott Matheson, Jr., who supports the amendment as well.
“I think it”s a good idea,” Matheson said. “If passed, it will be a major impetus for better economic growth and for better collaborative work between campus and community.”
New technology plays an important role in Matheson”s economic plan, which he released earlier this month.
Lynn Astel, director of technology transfer for BYU, said the private college wouldn”t be affected.
“We”ve licensed out [over 50] technologies from food processing to computer software to drugs for Lukemia,” he said. “We”ve got active right now 15 to 20 companies started with BYU technology.”
BYU is not the only university, though, that has licensed out technology. The University of Utah, Utah State and other state universities have established research foundations able to take stock in companies that use their technologies.
Brent Brown, director of technology transfer for the U of U, said he doesn”t anticipate much change if the amendment passes.
“It is a needed point of clarification, but we license out technology through the foundation,” he said. “We don”t anticipate [the amendment] substantially changing the practice at the U of U.”
According to Brown, about 85 startup companies have resulted from U of U technology. Myriad Genetics, one of the more notable startups, administers genetic testing to determine predisposition to breast cancer.
Although universities find ways to get around present restrictions, the new amendment may make the process easier.
Utah Valley State College, for example, doesn”t have a comparable foundation that licenses out technologies.
“The amendment would allow colleges to benefit in a way that is not as easy today,” said Bill Evenson, associate dean of health and science at UVSC.
Although Amendment Two enjoys good support, concerns exist.
Matheson, for example, said colleges should be accountable for their investments.