University Gets Ready to Market Inventions

Posted: May 7, 2003 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Fran Rensbarger

The George Mason Intellectual Properties Inc. (GMIP) Board of Directors held its founding meeting on Jan. 31, bringing to life a plan to market inventions of university faculty, staff, and students.

GMIP is a private, nonprofit corporation established for the benefit of the university. It will own and market university inventions, and share proceeds with the inventor and return revenue–after operating expenses are deducted–to the university.

The new corporation is important in marketing university inventions because legal barriers can make it difficult for George Mason to be a good partner with companies. GMIP can act in a more business-like manner. For example, it can contract without being bound by the state’s strict procurement rules, it can engage specialized legal services, and it can indemnify against lawsuits. The turn-around time to handle the processing and marketing of patents could be shorter for GMIP than for the university.

GMIP has a nine-member board, chaired by Silvio Tavares, a lawyer and investment banker, and director at The Corporate Executive Board Inc., where he is an adviser to Fortune 500 chief financial officers. The president of GMIP is Christopher Hill, vice provost of research; the treasurer is Beth Brock, assistant vice president and controller; and the corporate secretary and executive director is Jennifer Murphy, director of technology transfer. The corporation had been operating informally for several months while officers finalized implementation details, including language in the bylaws and recruiting the board members. Final items remaining include acquiring director’s and officer’s insurance and signing the contract with the university for management of the inventions.

Once GMIP is operational, ownership of inventions will be transferred to the corporation, including the 10 patents already issued to George Mason. The transfer will allow GMIP to enter into business arrangements with other companies to use university patented products and ideas. In all, there are already more than 80 university technologies in various stages of development and commercialization.

“Now, with GMIP, we can handle the larger flow of invention disclosures, and we can hire outside help if need be,” says Hill. “This spring, we will aggressively promote what we can do.”

Marketing expert Ann Clare, recently hired for her technology and research marketing experience, will help identify a suitable marketing plan for each technology. GMIP will likely license most inventions to existing companies. An inventor or other entrepreneur may also start up a small company and license the invention back to the company, in which case GMIP might take a small equity share in the company in lieu of fees.

“Marketing inventions is part of the American dream,” says Hill. “Part of the incentive process to recruit and retain faculty is to promise a means to commercialize their inventions. New professors are interested in our technology transfer office and how effective it is.”

In the university community, President Alan Merten, Provost Peter Stearns, and the deans are all enthusiastic about GMIP. Some faculty have expressed concern that having the university act like a business challenges the traditional role of the university. However, Murphy says, “Technology transfer is, in fact, a very effective means of fulfilling the university’s mission to disseminate new knowledge.”

Write to at