Apr 10, 201811:40 AMInside Wisconsin
with Tom Still
Outside Wisconsin’s biggest cities, academic research growing in prominence
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When a leading West Coast “think tank” examined how well colleges and universities are turning research into patents, companies, and products, a somewhat surprising name appeared on the list.
Ranked 125th in the nation, in a neighborhood with Texas Tech, the New Jersey Institute of Technology, San Diego State, UW–Milwaukee, and Oklahoma, was the WiSys Technology Foundation.
Based on issued patents, licensing agreements, licensing income, and startups, the rankings by the California-based Milken Institute showed that WiSys — which was created to manage intellectual property on University of Wisconsin campuses outside Madison and Milwaukee — is coming into its own.
Combined with other trends tied to campus research, that’s encouraging news for communities that might otherwise feel outside the circle of the larger innovation economy.
The 15th annual “Posters in the Rotunda” showcase, set for April 11 in the state Capitol, will feature about 100 exhibits by undergraduate students and their faculty advisors on topics ranging from health to manufacturing, and from natural resources to computing.
While the state’s doctoral universities are the main sources of research activities, the 11 comprehensive campuses also are churning out ideas — including some that display commercial and company creation potential.
WiSys is helping those universities move ideas from the lab bench to the marketplace. Created as an offshoot of the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation, which has handled UW–Madison invention disclosures and licenses for more than 90 years, WiSys performs a similar role for the rest of the UW System outside the UW–Milwaukee.
It manages disclosures from professors, other faculty, and students; obtains patents where possible; and supports inventors as they move toward licensing their ideas or building a company.
Invention disclosures on UW System campuses outside the big two in Madison and Milwaukee have climbed steadily of late, with 64 invention disclosures in the 2016–17 fiscal year. Twelve patents have been issued and others are in the pipeline; three licensing deals were executed; about $611,000 in grants were awarded; and about a dozen other campus-based proposals were funded.
Executive director Arjun Sanga, who came to Wisconsin after working in similar technology transfer roles in Texas and Kansas, has expanded the role of WiSys through outreach on individual campuses and through regional directors that understand links to industry.
WiSys has also facilitated student contests to tease out the best ideas and created a corps of “student ambassadors” to help engage their colleagues in what it means to be a researcher, inventor, or entrepreneur.