COLUMBIA — MU was issued 21 patents in the 2010 academic year, more than ever before.
Columbia entrepreneur Brian Thompson believes one day his research might be the cure for polluted rivers, lakes and streams. Until then, he waits with more than a million other inventors and researchers whose patents are pending at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
Thompson’s enzyme research began at MU after the completion of his dissertation at Kansas State University. The researcher he worked for there was brought by MU to Columbia to increase life science research on campus. Thompson followed his boss to work at MU.
MU, and the rest of the academic research world, measures a university’s success in part by the number of patents it is issued each year.
For about the past five years, most Big 12 universities, MU included, have been issued fewer than 10 patents. Last year, MU was issued 21 patents, jumping into third place in the conference.
“Patents signify the results of the intellectual pursuits of our faculty. Patents are significant because they allow the opportunity of commercialization of research results that will benefit society,” said Chris Fender, director of the MU Office of Technology Management and Industry Relations.
The increasing resources aimed at Fender’s office benefit the university in two important ways. First, the number of patents generated contributes to the university’s prestige. They are also increasingly seen as potential revenue generators in lean budget years.
“The university has put a premium in the last few years on protecting the intellectual property of their researchers," Thompson said. MU decided that this was an area in which it was lagging behind a lot of different schools, he said.
After a patent is issued, revenue comes from licensing the research to companies or entrepreneurs such as Thompson. MU owns all of the research done on campus, so when Thompson left his position to start a business based on the research he developed at MU, he paid the university a fee.
MU received $9.5 million from licensing agreements last year. That’s an increase of nearly $7.5 million since fiscal year 2006. Even though only about 10 percent of patents will go on to generate revenue, the university has used the additional money to offset budget cuts from the state.
Thompson said that licensing agreements create a revenue stream from universities that can be used to offset budget cuts.
"The university doesn’t get hit as hard. The tuition hikes don’t have to be as high. They can help the university as a whole.”
According to Paul Bateson, a business counselor at the Missouri Small Business and Technology Development Center, the licensing agreements are beneficial for MU, Columbia and entrepreneurs.
“The university is a draw when businesses are looking for places to go. There are several businesses that came to Columbia because of the proximity to the research being done here,” Bateson said.
The intentional focus on patenting more intellectual property started about four years ago. Since 2008, the Office of Technology Management and Industry Relations has grown from six employees to 11 this year. That has led to an overall increase in the number of patent applications.
"We take our job as stewards very seriously, making sure those innovations get to market and seeing they’re protected,” Fender said.
Fender said MU hopes to keep increasing the number of patents issued, especially as state funding looks uncertain. He also said he hopes to see a 5 percent to 10 percent increase each year in the number of patent applications filed and in the revenue from licensing agreements.
“You have all these Mizzou researchers making all these discoveries resulting in patents,” Thompson said. “It says, ‘Hey, this happened at the University of Missouri.’ It says we’ve reached upper echelons of research universities.”
Thompson said he hopes his patent will soon join the ranks of those issued to MU. Until then, he develops his business around his research — patent pending.