BYU ranks top in inventions


    By Jens Dana

    Between the high-end brake pad and the palm pilot electrical connector on Burt Knudson?s desk, there?s a survey that deems BYU one of the most innovative universities in the nation.

    Knudson, licensing associate for BYU?s Technology Transfer Office, said the Association of University Technology Managers places BYU at the top of its listing of universities that report invention disclosures, a form used to disclose technology that have possible market value. University of North Carolina came in second, and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute came in third.

    Knudson also said BYU usually receives about $23 million in government research funding, which seems small compared to the approximate $269 million that the University of Utah receives annually. However, BYU ranks third in the nation for patents applied for and issued per research dollar.

    ?Essentially, we are getting the most bang for our buck,? Knudson said.

    Not only is BYU getting the most bang for its research dollar, but it?s also getting a lot of revenue back on patents it licenses to companies to produce. In 2004, Knudson said revenue from patents totaled about $4 million.

    Not surprisingly, the vast majority of BYU?s patents come out of the College of Engineering and Technology, Knudson said. Out of that college, the mechanical engineering department contributes most, with about five licenses signed per year, he said.

    In 2004, faculty and students submitted 28 invention disclosures to the Office of Technology Transfer. Thus far, in 2005 that has number swelled to about 58, Knudson said. By year?s end, he said he expects that number to reach 65.

    Leon Przybyla, associate director of Technology Transfer, said he accounts the high number of invention disclosures and patent issues to the office?s effort to gain faculty members? trust. Usually researchers prefer to patent technology on their own, but he said that trend is changing at BYU.

    Przybyla said researchers are generally hesitant to work with the intellectual property offices at other universities because they are allowed to only keep a small percentage of royalty income, about 15 percent; whereas, at BYU, researchers are given 45 percent of the revenue. The university gives 27.5 percent to the researcher?s college, and the rest is used for other educational purposes.

    ?You?ll see invention disclosures continue to grow because we will continue to win more professors over,? Przybyla said.

    Larry Howell, a mechanical engineering professor, said when he was new he believed new innovations should be accessible to everyone, but now he realizes why patent protection is essential.

    ?I found that when things go into the public domain, industry didn?t want to use it,? he said. ?But when you give industry the right to the patent, it gives them a competitive advantage over their competitors who don?t have the patent.?

    In the last few years, Howell said he has filed for about 17 patents on innovations ranging from new high-end bike breaks to the Y flex, a piece of exercise equipment. So far, half of his inventions have been issued licenses while the others are still pending.

    Howell said BYU emphasizes education over research, which is why nearly all his patents have included students as co-inventors.

    ?Students don?t usually understand there are a lot of world class, cutting-edge things that keep pushing the bounds of engineering and science,? he said. ?We?re pushing the bounds of technology. BYU is a very innovative place.?

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