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December 4, 1997

Earnings from Pitt's patents expected to double in FY98

In March 1996, when Pitt hired Arthur A. Boni to direct the newly formed Office of Technology Management, the University was earning about $1 million a year from licensing agreements on Pitt-owned patents.

That income is expected to double by the end of the current fiscal year, Boni says.

But even then, Boni won't be satisfied. Neither will the University's Board of Trustees, which has set a goal of boosting Pitt into the top 10 among U.S. universities in technology transfer — and, in the process, creating 1,000 new jobs in the region within five years, and 10,000 jobs within 10 years.

Currently, the University of California system leads all universities with an annual income of $45 million from licenses on inventions and technologies developed by its faculty. Harvard ranks 10th, generating $5 million a year from such activities.

Pitt's goal, as set by the Board of Trustees, is to be generating $10 million annually from technology transfer within five years, while spinning off an average of five new companies per year.

"This university is certainly capable of performing to that level, given the quality of the faculty and given the stature of the medical establishment here," Boni told the University Senate's budget policies committee (BPC) Nov. 21.

"If CMU can do it, there's no reason we can't," Boni added. Over the last five years, Carnegie Mellon has earned about $40 million through technology transfer, he said.

Pitt's gain would not be CMU's loss, Boni noted. Increasingly, he said, the neighboring universities' administrations see the schools as natural collaborators rather than competitors, particularly in the fields of biomedicine and robotics. Just hours before the BPC meeting, Pitt Chancellor Mark Nordenberg and Provost James Maher met with their CMU counterparts to discuss joint academic and business ventures, Boni said. Pitt annually brings in about $250 million in sponsored research funds. Given that level of funding and compared with other universities, Pitt ought to be generating three-to-five times its current technology transfer revenue, Boni said.

About 70 percent of the licensing agreements on Pitt-owned patents grew out of biomedical research. "The Health Sciences people are ahead of the game in that [Senior Vice Chancellor for Health Sciences] Tom Detre, four or five years ago, started working very aggressively with people in the medical community here and developed a patent portfolio," Boni said. "We're just beginning to do that in the engineering school and in the non-biomedical sciences." Boni said he has "taken it as a personal challenge" to increase Pitt's revenue from commercial licenses on non-biomedical research.

— Bruce Steele

Filed under: Feature,Volume 30 Issue 8

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