SENATORS CONSIDER WAYS TO IMPROVE RETURNS ON UNIVERSITY RESEARCH
(AUSTIN) — Senators on the Higher Education Subcommittee are studying ways in which research at state public universities can generate more money through commercialization. Other states, such as Wisconsin, California and Michigan, have created a "culture of commercialization" where researchers are mindful about market applications of inventions and research, and work closely with internal organizations to secure adequate intellectual property protection for discoveries. The subcommittee heard recommendations from university officials and industry representatives Wednesday on ways to get more money out of discoveries at Texas universities.
One of the primary goals of the subcommittee as relates to this interim charge is studying ways to increase the share of federal research dollars granted to state institutions. According to Higher Education Coordinating Board Deputy Commissioner Dr. David Gardner, 6.5 percent of federal grants to higher education go to Texas schools, up from 5.5 percent in 2000. Texas is one of only a few states to increase this percentage share since 1998, he said.
In 2005, the Legislature created the Emerging Technology Fund (ETF), and has invested nearly $500 million in this account to attract high-tech research and industry to Texas. ETF Advisory Committee Chair Bill Morrow testified that in the three years since its inception, ETF has granted $176 million to 103 technology companies in Texas. Morrow stressed the need for a shift in the mentality toward technology research in the state, where schools make commercial applications an integral part of the research process, rather than as an afterthought.
Private companies are often reticent to use university-derived technologies because they lack proper patent protection, according to Vice Chancellor for Technology Commercialization at Texas A&M Guy Diedrich. By utilizing in-house intellectual protection offices, Diedrich says research can be protected from duplication. This can be as simple as delaying release of a paper for a few days while the commercialization office secures preliminary patent protection.
Testimony from Wednesday's testimony will go into a report by the Higher Education Subcommittee to the Senate making recommendations for statutory changes to improve commercialization of university research. The Subcommittee is chaired by Laredo Senator Judith Zaffirini, and consists of Senators Kip Averitt, Dan Patrick, Tommy Williams and Royce West.