The University recently launched the BGSU Research Institute, designed to help faculty, staff and students develop their research or creative ideas into marketable products. It will also help find outside support to patent and license those products.
According to Dr. John Folkins, the chief executive officer of the newly incorporated nonprofit organization, “The research institute matches the culture of the University to the needs of the public. It builds upon the great work faculty are already doing and gives them the opportunity to take it further.”
If you have a discovery you feel has potential as a product, but don’t know where to begin in the process of patenting, marketing and licensing it, the institute can help, he said. Likewise, if you are in the early stages of developing an idea you feel is promising, but don’t have the resources to take it through to completion, the institute may be able to help find the backing you need, Folkins explained. In addition to patents, some intellectual property may lend itself to copyrights that can be licensed and subsequent products that can be marketed. Faculty, staff and students may be able to benefit from income generated from commercialization of their work.
After six and a half years as provost, Folkins is uniquely positioned to head the endeavor, said Dr. Heinz Bulmahn, vice provost for research and dean of the Graduate College. His knowledge of the faculty will enable him to work closely with them to identify projects that could be taken forward. “There tends to be a cultural mindset in universities that is not used to thinking in terms of commercial potential,” Bulmahn said. “Creating the institute is a signal to the community that if you have something promising, we want to assist you in moving it to the marketplace.”
Folkins will “encourage faculty to look at opportunities that might have an impact on the economic viability of the region,” he said.
“I will be visiting different units and talking about the services we offer,” Folkins said. While no one is required to use the institute’s resources to promote their endeavors, “we would be pleased to offer our help if they wanted it,” he said. He encourages faculty to email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or call him at 2-8024. The institute, which is a nonprofit corporation separate from BGSU, is temporarily located in the Sponsored Programs and Reseach office in 106 University Hall, but will be moving to new quarters in a University-owned building on East Wooster Street.
While Folkins will work both internally and externally, plans are under way to hire a licensing officer who will deal primarily with external resources. The officer will have the knowledge and background to communicate with the industrial and financial community, not only to “shop around” BGSU intellectual property, but also to find possible links between a company’s needs and emerging research at the University, Bulmahn said.
The licensing officer will seek startup capital for projects well under way, licensing possibilities for fully developed ideas and, if a project would be more marketable were it more fully developed, investors willing to fund its development. In addition, the institute can assist in creating spin-off businesses.
A recent article in the Cleveland Plain Dealer noted that since hiring commercialization specialists, Case Western Reserve University and the Cleveland Clinic have seen significant increases in the amount of licensing income and in the number of disclosures about inventions from professors.
BGSU already has a Patent Advisory Committee that offers advice and opinions about the patentability of ideas; the committee will collaborate with the institute staff in deciding which ideas to pursue.
Also in process is the creation of a board of directors for the institute, since it is a nonprofit corporation. The board will provide advice and direction and set policies. The BGSU Board of Trustees is expected to appoint five board members at its Friday (March 23) meeting. Those chosen will come with experience as business executives. Three BGSU faculty members will also serve as ex officio members of the institute board.
The BGSU trustees recommended the creation of a BGSU Research Institute in 2005 and then approved it in 2006. “We believe there is compelling justification for the University to devote significant attention to promoting, encouraging and commercializing faculty-generated innovations,” they wrote in 2005.
“In another sense, this builds on our engagement with the public,” Folkins pointed out. “We have a number of civic engagement projects; this is engagement with business and industry. It can bring in money for faculty and the University; it provides services to the public, and it helps the public understand the influence the University has on their lives by connecting products that they desire and are useful with the University.”
“We’ve got to have a more effective way of developing inventions and innovative ideas that have the potential of being a success in the marketplace,” Bulmahn said. “There is an expectation on the part of the public that we will contribute to the economic vitality of the state.”
BGSU does not expect to see quick results, however. Folkins noted that the average licensing agreement takes seven years to begin generating revenue. Furthermore, the first goal of the institute is to raise awareness among faculty and staff about possible commercialization of their intellectual property and to make connections with the business and industrial community.
“Many new ideas do come from universities,” Bulmahn said. “If we don’t pursue this, we will leave a segment of the University research enterprise dormant, and we will not be competitive.”