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Closing the gap between ideas and marketplace


UCLA Today Staff

While UCLA is among the top five universities in the nation for the amount of research funding it receives, the university’s progress in technology transfer, moving creative ideas from the lab to the marketplace, was lagging up until recent years.

But under the direction of Vice Chancellor of Research Roberto Peccei and with the reorganization of the Office of Intellectual Property Administration (OIPA), the technology transfer program at UCLA has been rebuilt, bolstered by more resources and a cadre of staff with expertise in business development and intellectual property management.

Now a major push has begun under the new executive director of OIPA and director of the Office of Research Administration, Andrew Neighbour, to bridge the gap between discovery and licensing and to build partnerships with the venture capital and business communities.

“The assets and opportunities are here, and particularly the need to serve our faculty is here,” said Neighbour, an associate vice chancellor. “Those who wish to commercialize technology deserve to get value-added assistance from the technology transfer program.”

OIPA is in the process of setting up a small, innovative pre-seed investment fund, which will support early-stage faculty research that may have commercial potential. So far, four California venture capital firms have made a commitment to invest in the fund, which could be launched sometime next fall.

Another example of outreach took place June 17 when a group of venture capitalists from around the state came to the Faculty Center to hear from top UCLA researchers about wide-ranging interdisciplinary projects in nanotechnology, wireless technology and other scientific ventures that have untapped investment potential. The event was organized by OIPA and David Lundberg, director of strategic alliances in the Development Office.

“This is an opportunity for you to learn what’s going on here at UCLA and for us to learn more about how we can better work with the investment community,” Chancellor Albert Carnesale told the gathering.

Research administration has been entirely revamped, for example, to ensure greater coordination between the campus and the private sector so that projects can progress seamlessly from grant proposal to awards to innovation and on to licensing.

“It’s an exciting time at UCLA for technology transfer,” Carnesale said. “We’re much more nimble than we were before and can respond to opportunities more quickly. We are developing a culture of collaboration with industry.”

Among those briefing investors on the latest research developments were Fraser Stoddart, director of the California NanoSystems Institute and the Saul Winstein Chair of Organic Chemistry; Jim Gimzewski and Shimon Weiss, professors of chemistry and biochemistry; Michael Phelps, chair of the Department of Molecular and Medical Pharmacology, director of the Center for Molecular Medicine and Norton Simon Chair in Biophysics; Jeff F. Miller, professor and chair of microbiology, immunology and molecular genetics; and Rajit Gadh, professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering.

Redwood City venture capitalist Tim Draper said the event had “a lot of the elements I was looking for. I wanted, first, to see some of the great theoretical things that are happening here. Then I wanted the scientists to start thinking about how they’re going to create practical applications that would become businesses.”

Said Leonard Judson of the Cycad Group in Santa Barbara: “It’s early, but we’re excited about what’s been said here today. There’s a lot going on on this campus.”

Numbers tracking technology transfer at UCLA in 2002 bolster that kind of optimism. UCLA saw 141 new inventions unveiled last year, 57 new U.S. patents filed and 43 new U.S. patents issued. The number of new licenses executed, 25, was double that of the previous year. Gross income from licensing was slightly more than $10 million. Currently, OIPA is managing 725 active cases in its intellectual property portfolio, with 350 active, issued patents. But much more can be done, campus leaders said.

“Our goal is to move more of UCLA’s intellectual property into the marketplace to support the needs of our research faculty and to benefit the economy through new capital formation and expanded employment,” Lundberg said.

 
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