Intellectual property revenue nearly $3 million

Rice University’s total revenues from intellectual property reached a record high of $2.8 million in fiscal year 2014.

“We have very inventive faculty members producing cutting-edge research that helped lift us past $2 million for the first time,” said Nila Bhakuni, director of the Office of Technology Transfer.

The $2.8 million total – up from $1.3 million in fiscal year 2013 – included $2.1 million in licensing revenue, about $622,300 in patent reimbursements and more than $134,500 in equity liquidation. Except for fiscal year 2012, Rice’s total revenue from intellectual property has exceeded $1 million for the past eight fiscal years, Bhakuni said.

Nila Bhakuni

Nila Bhakuni

“Although we don’t have a medical school, which could bring in major revenues from patents on drug discoveries, we’re doing really well with our materials science research,” she said. Nanotechnology, tissue engineering and semiconductors are among the fields from which Rice is earning significant royalties.

“Sometimes it takes 20 years before you start making money on a discovery,” Bhakuni said. “The buckyball was discovered here in the 1980s, but we didn’t complete our first license on nanotubes until 2000. My predecessor planted these seeds, and our early stage technology is starting to ripen.”

Dealing with patents and licensing “is a complicated business that is changing a lot,” Bhakuni said. “We’re becoming more engaged with industry.” She noted that Nancy Nisbett is assistant director of a group that deals exclusively with industry contracts. The entire group of licensing and industry contracts handled 339 transactions during the past fiscal year – up from a little over 200 the previous year.

Bhakuni’s team consults with inventors about their options, including whether a technology should be licensed to an established company, developed with a startup company or handled through some other venue. She said a startup company may take 10 years just to get a product on the market because of the time needed to develop a business plan, raise money, deal with government regulations and approvals, find or build a manufacturing site and develop the product.

“We try to find the right kind of experience for the researchers,” Bhakuni said. “Some want to experience starting their own company; some just want to do research and not have to deal with the business aspects. We work with them to see what their hearts’ desire is.”

Bhakuni said Rice has done a good job of protecting its intellectual property. The basic goal of the university’s policy on intellectual property is to promote the progress of science and technology and to ensure that discoveries, inventions and creations generated by faculty, staff and students are used in ways most likely to benefit the public. But the university also recognizes that it must assist its faculty and other researchers in properly disclosing their scholarly work, in complying with applicable laws and formal agreements and in gaining the protection available under U.S. laws governing patents, copyrights and trademarks.

Revenue generated through income from university-owned patents or software copyright is distributed in a way that recognizes the efforts and contributions of the inventors and developers. After the university has been reimbursed for all of its out-of-pocket expenses associated with the protection and marketing of the patent or software, including fees associated with patent filing and copyright registration, income is distributed as follows unless other agreements have been made:

* 37.5 percent to the inventors or developers or their heirs.

* 18.5 percent for graduate education.

* 14 percent to the department, center or institute.

* 30 percent to the university.

“Rice research impacts the world and changes things for the better, and that’s what’s important,” Bhakuni said. “It’s an additional benefit when we can tell a faculty member or student that they’re getting a royalty check for the research they helped develop.”


About B.J. Almond

B.J. Almond is senior director of news and media relations in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.