Imagine a transparent, elastic, organic light-emitting device that could one day make an electronic display nearly as clear as a window, a curtain that illuminates a room or a smartphone screen that doubles in size, stretching like rubber. Now visualize this: an innovative drug-delivery system in which tiny particles called nanodiamonds are used to carry chemotherapy drugs directly into brain tumors.
These inventions are just a small hint of the products, technologies and devices that UCLA researchers have recently created, with an eye toward improving the lives of people and communities.
But taking an invention from concept to the marketplace to broadly benefit the public can take significant time, money, strategy and business know-how, said Ben Dibling, associate director of licensing in the Office of Intellectual Property and Industry Sponsored Research (OIP-ISR).
In light of this, industry-university partnerships, which can involve funding for lab research, licensing of faculty-driven intellectual property developed by UCLA faculty and staff, and the contribution of commercial perspectives, are becoming increasingly valuable.
It’s part of a broader effort to make UCLA more entrepreneurial and speed the translation of research discoveries into products that benefit the public, said Dibling.
“For the public and the economy to realize the benefits of the discoveries taking place at UCLA in terms of products and services, we need to partner with companies," he said. "These partnerships may be with existing companies, or our office may support the formation of a new company that can take the technology forward.”
Among the more well-known successes arising from these partnerships are the Nicotine Patch, used by those who are trying to quit smoking; the Guglielmi detachable coil, a non-invasive treatment for those suffering from brain aneurysms; and the MERCI clot retriever, used to restore blood flow in the brains of stroke patients.
What makes UCLA so attractive to industry? There are a variety of factors.
“The faculty here are incredibly entrepreneurial,” said Dibling. During this past fiscal year, UCLA researchers disclosed 406 new inventions to OIP-ISR. In addition, 95 U.S. patents were secured by UCLA, bringing the current portfolio under management by the campus to 852 active U.S. patents and numerous corresponding foreign applications.
The proximity of a top-ranked engineering school to a nationally renowned hospital and a leading medical school is another strong selling point that allows for active collaboration across scientific disciplines. “Very few institutions across the U.S. can make such a claim,” he said.
This, coupled with a strong wave of innovation coming from the California NanoSystems Institute and its incubator program, are putting UCLA at the top of mind for industry leaders who are seeking a university partnership, said Dibling.
Another strong advantage UCLA has over other institutions is the structure of OIP-ISR, which encompasses business development, licensing, new ventures and administrative support.
“We’re a one-stop shop for industry,” he said. “That is not typical at other institutions.”
An important factor in these types of industry-university partnerships is ensuring that academic freedom, which is the foundation of research at UCLA, is conducted without undue influence. Campus officials work closely with faculty to ensure that the integrity of the research is always at the forefront.
When there is no existing company to support and shape product development, manufacturing or marketing of a technology, OIP-ISR works with faculty members and industry experts to create new companies. UCLA is currently one of the top five universities in the nation when it comes to startup company creation.
The university currently boasts more than 100 active companies on record, with roughly 20 new companies being founded each year.
This is not only good for UCLA and for the public, but it is also important for the local and state economy, business and job creation.
In fiscal year 2011-2012, UCLA startup companies employed 4,411 individuals with compensation estimated at $295 million. In addition, these companies had a financial output of $1.1 billion and generated roughly $108 million in tax revenue for federal, state and local governments.
In addition to fostering connections and conversations among UCLA faculty inventors who may be interested in taking their inventions to market, staff members work to identify industry experts who can skillfully manage the executive-level business side of any company that might be started.
Although a faculty member can be listed as a founder or co-founder, serve as a scientific advisor, have equity in the company or spend part of their time working for the company with the approval of their department head, he or she can’t be CEO, explained Thomas Lipkin, assistant director of entrepreneurship and new ventures.
“The university can’t negotiate a license with someone from within the UC system, definitely not faculty,” said Lipkin, noting that UC restrictions and legal requirements and limitations are followed to a tee in these matters. “It must be an external party that runs the company.”
Outreach to industry
This type of success doesn’t happen overnight, and it doesn’t happen without hard work. Over the past year, OIP-ISR has been informing industry representatives about the amazing work being done here at UCLA as well as working with faculty to help them realize their goals and envision the potential of their research.
At UCLA’s First Annual Medical Device Partnering Conference, held in March, industry professionals representing some the world’s largest medical device companies converged on the Westwood campus for a daylong conference aimed at informing them about the capabilities that exist here and the technologies that are available for licensing from UCLA.
The conference was the first of its kind for UCLA and, for its scope, rare in the field of academia. The exclusive event attracted 110 people, half of whom were industry representatives, said Miles Gerson, managing officer of business development at OIP-ISR. Also attending were UCLA faculty from the areas of medicine and engineering, high-level investors, university-based startups, as well as those who help drive commercialization of university-based knowledge.
The success of this first event inspired a similar showcase, this time of UCLA’s expertise in clean tech and advanced materials. That event, held Sept. 27, drew more than 200 industry representatives, investors, faculty and those involved with running UCLA startup companies.
OIP-ISR also recently initiated the university’s inaugural Entrepreneurs-in-Residence program and participated in FirstLookLA, an invitation-only preview of early-stage opportunities that could potentially be turned into companies. Both events resulted in industry and investor interest in helping to bring UCLA innovations to market, said Gerson.
Upcoming efforts include hosting the 2nd Annual Medical Device Partnering Conference on March 11, 2014, as well as maintaining a strong UCLA presence at multiple professional conferences throughout the year, including BIO International, JPMorgan Healthcare, BioNetworking, CES International, Cleantech Investors Summit, Semicon, and the Corporate Venturing & Innovation Partnering Conference.
“We are doing everything we can to make UCLA’s expansive innovation as accessible as possible,” said Gerson.
Members of the UCLA community who are interested in learning more about university-industry partnerships are encouraged to attend OIP-ISR's next First Friday breakfast networking and learning event for inventors and entrepreneurs. The event, to be held Dec. 6, will feature a presentation about partnering with industry with academia, led by Gerson. Those interested in attending are asked to RSVP.