Washington State University at Spokane says its stepping up efforts to commercialize research being done here by creating a new position to oversee its intellectual property-related activities in the Spokane area.
WSU has hired Terri L. Butler, a scientist who has experience in both biological research and technology commercialization, to fill the part-time position of technology commercialization manager here. WSUs Pullman campus has had similar positions for some time, but until now the school hasnt had someone like that focused on Spokane, Butler says.
The campus here is growing, and we have so much going on, Butler says. Its good to have a liaison between the Spokane community and the university.
WSU-Spokane research units include the Applied Sciences Laboratory, the Health Research and Education Center, the Sleep and Performance Research Center, and the Washington Institute for Mental Illness Research and Training.
Butler says a major part of her job will be to educate WSU-Spokanes faculty members about the importance of obtaining intellectual property rights on research they do; to help them file patents for their discoveries; and to help them and WSU reach license agreements with companies interested in making commercial products with their research. Butler also is marketing WSU Spokanes research to potential investors here and in the Seattle area, where she resides.
My main goal is to build awareness about intellectual property so that people are looking around for opportunities to patent their research, Butler says. Itd be a shame to let something slip through our fingers.
Butler spends half of her time here and the other half in the Seattle area, where her family resides. As activity starts to pick up here, though, she says she likely will spend more time in Spokane.
Patenting and copyrighting of technology is important because investors are more likely to spend money on a product or process if its protected against competition, Butler says.
Some professors understand that nothing will happen with their research unless they patent it, Butler says. Entrepreneurs and venture capitalists will be interested in sinking money into something and getting it out into the world, but not if theyre not protected.
In 2003 and 2004, Spokane County ranked the lowest in patents filed among all major and some smaller metropolitan areas in Washington state, according to data compiled by the Seattle-based Washington Technology Center thats available on Eastern Washington Universitys Web site. Also, in contrast to most other areas in the state, Spokane Countys patent-filing rate declined over the two-year period. The rate of patents awarded per 100,000 population in Spokane County was 0.79 and 0.64, respectively, for 2003 and 2004. The rate in the Tri-Cities in those years was 2.73 and 6.09, and in Pullman was 5.16 and 5.73.
Ultimately, Butler says she hopes that generating more patents and copyrights here will result in more commercial products reaching the market. WSU also would receive royalties from licenses, which would generate more revenue for the school. Such revenue would allow WSU Spokane to rely less on federal research grants, which are becoming increasingly difficult to obtain, she says. Currently, WSU-Spokane spends more than $7 million a year on grant-funded research.
While WSU-Spokane is seeking to increase the number of patents and copyrights filed by its employees, it has to be selective about which employees it helps and which companies it chooses to receive licenses to use its research, Butler says. Thats mainly because it typically costs an average of $10 million to obtain a patent, she says.
An example of a recent licensing collaboration between WSU-Spokane and a private-sector entity here involves the schools Interdisciplinary Design Institute and Habitat for Humanity-Spokane, Butler says. Last year, Habitat for Humanity asked a design professor to work with WSU students here to create a dwelling design it could use, she says. A group of students copyrighted their design last spring, and now Habitat for Humanity has licensed that design and plans to use it in projects.
Meanwhile, Butler has talked with researchers at the Sleep and Performance Research Center about possible commercial applications for equipment theyre developing to monitor alertness in human subjects. The researchers currently are filing for several patents for that research, she says.
Convincing researchers to file for patents before publishing the results of their research can be difficult, she says. Traditionally, professors have been recognized for their published work. The goal of publishing is to spread the news about research quickly, while the goal during the patent filing process is to keep such information confidential, and sometimes professors have trouble changing their thinking about their discoveries, she says.
Academia can sometimes be anti-commercial, because they think commercializing their research means theyre greedy, Butler says. Its true, they will get money, but once they see the value of patenting in getting their technology out into the world, they start patenting more often.
Butler has personal experience with the patent process; she holds 12 U.S. patents for her research on pharmaceutical and nutritional products and polymer processing.
She received a bachelors degree in biology from Stanford University, then worked in a neurobiology research laboratory at the University of Chicago. She and her husband moved to Minnesota, where she worked for a biotechnology research company and earned a Ph.D. in chemical engineering from the University of Minnesota.
She then worked for St. Paul, Minn.-based 3M Co., where she helped develop a special coating for transdermal drug patches, which transmit drugs through the skin. After that, Butler worked at a small bio-energy concern in the Minneapolis area later moved to Seattle, where she worked in pharmaceutical-nutritional product development.
Contact Emily Brandler at (509) 344-1265 or via e-mail at email@example.com.
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