The University Record, October 24, 1994

U research ‘untapped gold mine’

By Sally Pobojewski
News and Information Services

Venture capitalists are discovering that University of Michigan research is an “untapped gold mine,” according to Robert L. Robb, director of the Technology Management Office.

In a presentation to the Board of Regents last week on “Technology Transfer and Economic Development,” Robb said the level of interest shown by the investment community in U-M research has increased in response to the University’s proactive position on technology transfer.

The mission of the Technology Management Office (TMO) is “to identify, evaluate, market and transfer U-M inventions and software to the private sector for further development and the ultimate benefit of the public.”

During FY ’94, TMO facilitated the creation of three new spin-off companies to market U-M technology, and processed 100 invention disclosure statements, according to Robb. Nearly one-half of these disclosures were from the Medical School. About one-quarter originated in the College of Engineering with the remaining one-quarter coming from chemistry, pharmacy, physics and other fields.

The University received $2.1 million in revenue from technology and software development in FY ’94—a $400,000 increase from the previous fiscal year. Although Robb predicted that income received from marketing U-M technology will continue to increase, he told the Regents that financial incentives are not the primary consideration.

“Income is not the main reason for the U-M’s increased emphasis on technology transfer,” he said. “The primary reason is to serve the community and support economic development in Michigan and the nation.”

Jay Hartford, executive director of the College of Engineering’s Office of Technology Transfer, briefed the Regents on how technology transfer is being implemented in the engineering college, where the focus is on encouraging faculty participation in technical or scientific conferences with industry researchers, an enhanced continuing education program and industry/faculty research partnerships.

“We see our job as building bridges between faculty and industry,” Hartford said. “Our ultimate goal is to build collaborative partnerships and promote exchanges of technology that impact economic development of the region, state and nation.”

As an example, Hartford cited the College of Engineering’s Display Technology & Manufacturing Center, where 14 faculty scientists are working with nine corporations to develop technology and manufacturing processes for use in the flat panel display industry.

A newly established Institute for Manufacturing Technologies—to include a Fraunhofer Center for Laser Processing—will give engineering researchers and students the opportunity to solve specific problems in machining, auto body assembly and laser processing for private manufacturing firms.

On a local level, Hartford described how he and his staff are working with the Ann Arbor Chamber of Commerce to recruit new companies to the area that share a research focus with the College of Engineering, as well as a partnership with the Washtenaw Development Council, to facilitate growth of local software firms.

“There is increasing awareness that the U-M is a world leader in the creation of new technology,” said Homer A. Neal, vice president for research. “We will continue our efforts to revitalize this important University mission.”