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Virginia Tech Engineers Speed up Technology Transfer
February 25, 2009

Virginia Tech’s Center for Power Electronics Systems (CPES) has developed an intellectual property (IP) process that is almost as fast as industry’s and may be adaptable for other university research groups, according to CPES Director and University Distinguished Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering Fred Lee. The National Science Foundation has cited CPES as a model Engineering Research Center for technology transfer and industry collaboration. Professor Lee says he suspects part of the CPES technology transfer success is due to the novel process it developed in 2003 for patents and invention disclosures.

The interests of protecting IP, while publishing research results in a timely manner, often conflict. IP issues sometimes frustrate both academic researchers and interested industrial firms, according to Professor Lee. Furthermore, universities typically claim ownership of all IP developed in their research labs, but do not always have the resources or market knowledge to select which inventions to pursue. In 2003, CPES instituted a new IP process that taps expertise from industry partners and helps university technology move quickly into commercialization. Funding for patents is contributed by a group of industrial partners called “Principal Members, and Principal Member Plus” who each contribute $5,000 a year above and beyond their respective membership contribution. The additional funds are then pooled to establish the“Intellectual Property Protection Fund (IPPF)”.

“Working with Virginia Tech Intellectual Properties (VTIP), we have established a very effective process,” Professor Lee said. When a CPES researcher develops technology that may have IP value, we send the information to the IPPF members, organize a teleconference, and ask for a vote. If the IPPF members determine it is worthwhile and has market value, VTIP sends the patent information to a patent lawyer. The legal expenses are paid off from the IPPF. “Now, there is no delay; we are almost as fast as industry,” Professor Lee noted.

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