Thursday, October 16, 2008

NAU Ventures provides patents

[Source: Joey Chenoweth, Jack Central] - A new initiative called NAU Ventures has been established to create a system that will connect university researchers with resources to get their discoveries patented and into commercial distribution.

NAU Ventures, in a contract signed with the university, is a technology advancement plan designed to take discoveries and inventions, called invention disclosures, from faculty and student researchers and give them advice as far as getting their idea patented and commercialized. This is done through a partnership with the Northern Arizona Center for Emerging Technologies (NACET), a local business incubator. An incubator provides start-up companies with space, advice, an array of services and access to investors.

NAU Ventures is being managed by Dr. Al Poskanzer, the head of Poskanzer & Associates, a consulting business focused on technology collaboration, commercialization and licensing.
“The technology transfer plan at any university involves getting discoveries and inventions patented and licensed by private companies,” Poskanzer said. “Another goal is to contribute to the economic development of the local community.”

Poskanzer, whose experience includes being the director of technology licensing for Boeing and being the technology transfer director at ASU, said NAU Ventures encourages university professors with new research to become entrepreneurs by starting their own businesses in order to get their ideas into the market.

“Suppose you have a professor that invents a pill that cures cancer,” Poskanzer said. “They can go through NAU Ventures and we would encourage them to start their own company, and we would take that discovery from the laboratory into commercialization.”

Poskanzer said NAU Ventures is a great opportunity for NAU to show leadership to the other two research universities in Arizona as well.

“It is really setting a great example for the other two universities,” Poskanzer said. “It’s the only technological advancement program (in Arizona) that is joined at the hip with a local incubator. NAU is really setting an example for the rest of the state in this area.”

One company hoping to benefit from NAU Ventures is SenesTech Inc. Assistant Research Professor Loretta Mayer, Researcher Cheryl Dyer from the Department of Biology, and Assistant Professor Tim Vail from the Department of Chemistry founded SenesTech in 2002.

SenesTech is a company that focuses on reproductive strategies for wildlife population control.

The company’s current project is to address the overpopulation of rice field rats in southeast Asia. These rats are consuming somewhere from 10 to 50 percent of the region’s pre-harvest rice crop. Ten percent of the crop alone is enough to feed about 380 million people. SenesTech has developed bait they will be testing in the island of Java, Indonesia next month.

Mayer said SenesTech has plans for future projects, including population control for feral dogs and cats worldwide, the white-tailed deer in the northeast United States and rodents that contaminate greeneries around the world. The company, which was formerly partnered with the U of A, is now working with NAU Ventures on these projects in order to have a closer proximity.

“I hope (NAU Ventures) would provide patents and future licenses that will provide opportunities for SenesTech,” Mayer said. “Because I’m at NAU, this is where my laboratories are. This is where my ideas can be developed that will be improvements in technology.”

Laura Huenneke, NAU vice president for research, is in charge of taking research from researchers and disclosing it to NAU Ventures in order to get their advice for the next step. She is working with the initiative to go through the university files and find all the invention disclosures from the past 10 years.

NAU Ventures then looks at each disclosure and decides whether it has potential for commercialization. Between six and 12 disclosures are chosen for review for each year. NAU Ventures is also meeting with faculty and staff in order to discuss future ideas.

Huenneke said some universities have made great profit from technology expansion programs like this, such as the University of Florida when they invented Gatorade. However, she said this is not the goal for NAU.

“In our case, we’re more concerned with the professional opportunity for our faculty so we can attract and keep a higher-quality faculty,” Huenneke said. “We’re doing this more for the benefit of our faculty and our students rather than because we think we can make a couple million dollars out of it.”

She also said the program offers great benefits for students as well.

“For students, it’s an opportunity to see how creativity at the university can create business opportunities for them in the future,” Huenneke said. “The opportunity is a way to benefit the students’ education.”

Poskanzer also said he sees a bigger impact coming from NAU Ventures.

“Hopefully we’ll create more jobs in Flagstaff,” Poskanzer said. “And hopefully we’ll put NAU and Flagstaff on the map with respect to the formation of new high technology companies that would be headquartered in Flagstaff.”

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