Tech programs benefit inventors, universities

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SinfoniaRx is a software company that helps pharmacists prescribe prescription drugs that won’t have harmful interactions in patients. Metropia is an app improving the commutes of users by encouraging more efficient driving.

Both of these companies started out as initiatives brought about by University of Arizona faculty through the school’s technology transfer program called Tech Launch Arizona.

Tech Launch Arizona, created in 2011, aimed at helping faculty take ideas and evolve them into marketable innovations.

TLA and other tech transfer programs like Arizona Technology Enterprise from Arizona State University, and those at other schools are used by research universities across the nation to develop ideas into products, patents, and companies in the marketplace that brings revenue and prestige to the school and people the created the idea.

 However, the UA organization was underperforming in its initial form, and required restructuring.

There were 226 patents filed in the 18 months leading up to June 30, 2013 ,and that increased to 250 in the next 18 month period that ended Dec. 31. During those same two periods, the number of patent issued increased from 36 to 43,  start ups created increased from seven to 13 and the income from the program increased from $2.1million to $5 million.

The is the result of several reforms done to Tech Launch Arizona, aimed at improving its performance through meeting the standards of other schools as well as well as innovations that set it apart.

“I have the wind at my back, because the president is absolutely supporting this,” said David Allen, vice president of Tech Launch Arizona, “but I also have the sun at my neck; I have to perform.”

Every research university has such programs, Allen said. “The question is how they use it?”

Reforms to the program include changes to the UA’s rules making research and innovation factors for consideration when a faculty member attempts to attain tenure.

Further the UA now allows those who develop an idea to retain ownership in companies created from their ideas as well as a stake in licensing revenue, a change from prior policies that allowing them to only choose from the former or latter.

Allowing creators a stake in ownership and leasing puts the UA’s policies in line with those from other institutions.

These reforms are aimed at creating more stories like that of Dr. Yi-Chang Chiu and Kevin Boesen, who brought successful ideas to the UA’s tech transfer program and created successful companies.

Metropia, created by Chiu, improves users commutes by encouraging them to go at slightly different times though incentives like gift cards and discounts.

“It all started in January 2011 when I walked into OTT (Office of Tech Transfers)” Chiu said, saying the school supported him immediately saying the product was going to be a “game changer.”

Chiu’s idea evolved and now has 20 employees and is launching city by city across the country with Tucson coming next week, followed by Austin, Texas, later this month and service in New York City coming in June.

SinfoniaRx, created by Kevin Boesen is a medication management software and service that prevents people from being prescribed medications that when mixed could interact harmfully with the person.

“The mission was to provide clinical services for patients,” Boesen said discussing the idea behind the company

Today SinfoniaRx serves 20 percent of all Medicare users, or 6 million people as well as 1 million people through commercial and Medicaid programs.

SinfoniaRx bought out UA’s shares in 2013 to make it easier for the company to enter contracts, however 200 of the company’s 230 employees are UA students and Faculty and the School of Pharmacy.

Reforms to TLA have improved its performance, however against other colleges, many improvements can still be made.

When comparing the UA’s most recent 18 month cycle to national to that of Schools that the Brookings Institute looked at in 2009 and 2010, TLA only brought in more revenue than Colorado from its intellectual properties.

TLA does perform better than Harvard, Princeton, Stanford, Pittsburg, Washington, and Colarado with the number of patents it has been issued.

However the UA does exceed the other schools in the number of start ups it has created, with MIT being the only school to surpass Arizona’s 13.

Compared to commercialization efforts from the state’s other schools, Arizona State University and Northern Arizona University, UA falls between the two, not equaling the output of ASU but surpassing that of NAU.

Further all three schools show successes, surpassing state goals for the number of patents they receive, and ASU exceeding expectations in the number of start ups that it creates.

However all three schools have fallen below their expected intellectual property revenue, or the money create from ideas generated in the school. further TLA received only 21 patents in 2013, 27 less than the 48 ASU recieved.

Allen says that innovations will continue to increase and that TLA will grow larger and larger as a program, achieving and surpassing the goals it aims to achieve.

Allen also emphasizes that income is far from the only measure of success from in technology transfer programs.

“People do it to create an impact in their work,” Allen says.

Eric Klump is a reporter for Arizona Sonora News, a service from the School of Journalism with the University of Arizona. Contact him at eklump@email.arizona.edu

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