Jacob Schmidt, a professor of bioengineering, and Brendan Rauw, executive vice chancellor for research and executive director for entrepreneurship, in Schmidt’s lab.
As the birthplace of many new groundbreaking products and services, UCLA is a tremendous source of talent and innovation, fueled by $1.18 billion in research funding.
However, for many academics venturing into the world of intellectual property management for the first time, it’s a foreign place with its own terminology, acronyms and concepts unfamiliar to most.
This can result in mass confusion for the budding UCLA inventor who wants to bring his or her technology out of the laboratory and launch it into the marketplace.
Such was the case for professor Jacob Schmidt, Department of Bioengineering, who not only created a novel drug screening product but also co-founded a company to license his invention from the university.
“I can write up what the invention is and can say what it does, but I don’t know the legalese and what things are patentable and defendable,” Schmidt said. “There are a lot of details that I’m not as aware of.”
UCLA’s Office of Intellectual Property and Industry Sponsored Research (OIP-ISR), which currently manages 1,800 inventions, 500 material transfer agreements, and enters into roughly 50 licensing and 400 industry-sponsored agreements each year, provided the information and support Schmidt needed to put his mind at ease and cut through the legal fog.
OIP-ISR supports UCLA’s mission of teaching, research and service by educating the UCLA community about the ins and outs of protecting intellectual property, accelerating the development of UCLA technology for the common good, promoting economic growth in California and facilitating collaborations between UCLA researchers and industry to promote scientific breakthroughs.
And when it comes to start-ups like Schmidt’s, which is housed in the California NanoSystems Institute Technology Incubator, UCLA is among the top universities in the nation, with more than 20 new companies established each year, about the same number as MIT.
“We know how to do start-ups,” said Brendan Rauw, executive vice chancellor for research and executive director for entrepreneurship. “We know how to help raise money. We know how to get products and devices to market. We’ve got great researchers here, and we know how to make deals.”
OIP-ISR, which works with hundreds of companies and myriad campus researchers, anticipates a flurry of increased activity in the area of entrepreneurship, technology licensing and the further creation of start-up companies. To hold stride with these efforts, the office has filled nine staff positions, including adding two former venture capitalists, over the past three months. Additional hires are still expected, said Rauw, noting that he and his team are serious about engaging with industry and taking technology out of the laboratories for the benefit of the local community, the country and the world.
Since joining UCLA in March, Rauw has been exploring new partnerships, new sources of funding and investment, and meeting with department deans, chairs and faculty to heighten their understanding of what he and his team of licensing officers and industry- contract officers can do for them.
“There are opportunities for us to do a lot more for the campus community — we are working to increase our visibility to our faculty, staff and students. We want them to know what we do and how we can help,” he said.
Professor Frank Chang from the Department of Electrical Engineering has enjoyed a decadelong relationship with OIP-ISR. He sees the office and its staff as being excellent resources. “It’s important to use the office as a partner,” Chang said. “It’s an essential relationship.” The staff’s steadfast interest in helping researchers like him protect their ideas, establish industry contacts and strike deals has been invaluable to his career, Chang said.
Chang, who has patented more than 10 inventions through OIP-ISR, recently licensed his novel, wireless, peer-to-peer communication technology to a start-up company that has raised capital and is close to striking a deal that will bring this technology to consumers. “We have several companies excited, so hopefully we will soon see this in the market,” he said.
But while he is an expert in the science and the technology aspects of his innovations, he is not an expert in business or law, Chang admitted. This is where OIP-ISR officers work their magic: commercially evaluating new technologies, determining patentability and commercial value, securing patents, marketing and licensing inventions, and facilitating UCLA start-up companies. From negotiating license agreements and material transfer agreements to distributing royalties and other income to UCLA inventors, departments and the campus, the OIP-ISR team knows its stuff.
Rauw said he is excited that his team was able to strike yet another great deal for Chang. “We’re looking to protect the interests of the university, while at the same time ensuring that good deals are made to the benefit of our researchers. Our role is to facilitate entrepreneurship and the greater good for the campus.”
His message to inventors and investors?
“If you contact us, we will figure out how to make it work, whether it’s a new deal with industry, or a partnership with another institution, company or consortium that wants to invest. The fact that we have intellectual property management and industry research under one roof means that we can collaborate and work together,” Rauw said. “We are a one-stop shop.”
A series of events, “meet-and-greet” opportunities and new media are opening up ways for the entire campus community to get to know what OIP-ISR is all about. Among them are First Fridays, new monthly breakfast networking and learning events for inventors and entrepreneurs; a series of fall workshops directed at academic departments — but open to everyone — to help researchers better understand UC policies on intellectual property and entrepreneurship and learn about on and off-campus resources; the imminent launch of a reinvigorated website and a new guidebook for UCLA entrepreneurs.
“We want people to be familiar with our staff and the work that we do,” Rauw emphasized. “We want to make the process more transparent and less daunting for faculty.”