OTC News Archive

Opening UT’s research vault

University inventors will pitch work to investors at commercialization event

By Kirk Ladendorf, Austin American Statesman
May 24, 2004

Two engineering researchers at the University of Texas say they have come up with a new wireless networking technology that might help reshape the way broadband Internet access is delivered to consumers and businesses.

Professors Ted Rappaport and Robert Heath are pitching their new wireless concept. But the audience won’t be other academics. Instead, Rappaport and Heath will be among a dozen top UT inventors promoting their research Tuesday to possible investors at a technology commercialization conference sponsored by UT at the J.J. Pickle Research Campus in North Austin.

The new wireless technology is far more capable than the existing Wi-Fi and WiMax standards being used for wireless networking, says Rappaport, who also heads the university’s Wireless Networking and Communications Group.

He expects it to be a cheaper alternative to delivering broadband service than extending today’s broadband networks over phone lines and cable networks.

“We think we are close,” Rappaport said last week. “We have prototypes in the lab, and we have patents filed. And we have done the simulation to validate it. Now we have to do the hard work” of finding commercial partners that can take the technology out of the lab and into the marketplace.

“We want people to come in and put money in and help drive the ball forward with the full alignment of research faculty and students,” Rappaport said.

UT is pushing harder than ever to get its inventions into the marketplace while keeping its inventors working on campus.

“UT is a phenomenal source of research,” says Neil Iscoe, director of the school’s Office of Technology Commercialization. “We hadn’t taken advantage of economic development and commercialization. Now we are. If we do our job properly, we can have a serious impact on the Austin and Texas economies.”

Tuesday’s seminar is one method of getting the word out to investors and potential partners.

“This conference is about deals,” Iscoe says. “Deals we have made in the past and deals we want to do in the future.”

The school has struck 15 licensing deals so far this fiscal year and has others in the works. Iscoe said UT expects to receive more than $5 million in licensing income this year, up from $4 million a year ago, and he expects that income level will keep growing in the next several years.

Some of those deals will take place with Texas companies and create new jobs and investment, helping the economy.

The net result of the licensing is more income for furthering research work at the school and a better system for attracting aggressive inventors who want to license their discoveries. After expenses are deducted, the school evenly splits licensing income with inventors.

Local investors say they see strong signs of improvement at UT in its willingness to make licensing agreements.

The university has long lagged behind licensing powerhouses such as Stanford University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in putting its research breakthroughs into the marketplace.

“There is a renewed sense of mission and purpose and energy” in the school’s willingness to collaborate with business, says Stephen Straus of Austin Ventures.

Investor Clint Bybee says UT is taking “a far more business-oriented approach” toward working with investors on licensing deals.

“Neil brings a creativity to the job that hasn’t been there in a long time,” says Bybee, who is a managing director in Austin for Arch Venture Partners. “He is clearly anxious to get licenses done and to get technology out the door and into the commercial marketplace.”

Bybee’s firm licensed technology from UT’s chemistry department involved with using biological engineering to create miniature electrical structures. The work involves patents earned by former UT professor Angela Belcher, who since has moved to MIT.

UT received an ownership stake, a cash payment and potential royalties from the startup company, Semzyme Inc., based in Cambridge, Mass. If the company succeeds, Arch will get a big return on its investment and UT will profit, too.

“If the company wins, everybody wins,” Bybee said.

“It all starts with an exclusive license to the technology and that enables other things to happen. You can bring in financing and management and build the business. University research is rarely packaged in a pretty box. It takes a ton of work to engineer it… and make it ready for commercialization.”

Bybee’s investment firm has worked on technology-licensing deals with many universities in the past 17 years.

“Schools like Stanford and MIT are pros at this, and they have been doing (licensing deals) effectively for a long time,” Bybee said. “It drops off pretty significantly after that. But the University of Texas has a real shot at being a leading university in the technology transfer and commercialization arena.”

[ Statesman ]