University Partnerships That Promote Research and Benefit Associations

By: Daryl Strouts, CAE

Universities are looking for outside partners to help commercialize research and inventions. Your members and your association could benefit.

In 2007, the Kansas Wheat Alliance was formed to commercialize new wheat varieties developed by Kansas State University. Previously, the university shared new wheat varieties with anyone who wanted them. Unfortunately, this lack of exclusivity was unattractive to many seed producers.

KWA created a commercialization system for new wheat varieties, with the association collecting royalties on their sales. Through an agreement, the KSU Research Foundation exclusively licenses all KSU developed wheat varieties to KWA, which in turn recruits qualified, independent seed producers as sublicensees. KWA is also free to work with other entities to commercialize their varieties as well. A third-party seed-certification system is used to ensure that varietal integrity and seed quality are maintained.

Patent Facts
  • There are at least 270 universities in the United States conducting a significant amount of research annually.
  • In 2009, the top-16 universities, colleges, and research foundations received 40 or more patents each, for a total of 1,196 utility patents on inventions.
  • The U.S. Patent Office receives nearly 485,000 patent applications and grants more than 185,000 patents each year.

Because a system is in place to capture value and protect intellectual property, private companies are now willing to provide some of their unique resources to the university. KWA's system has helped to open the door to collaboration between private companies and Kansas State in the area of wheat breeding.

In KWA's first year, the association collected more than $500,000 in royalties, with $340,000 returned to the university. These funds will support Kansas State's wheat-breeding program, resulting in further innovation for the benefit of wheat farmers and KWA members.

Why You Should Consider University Partnerships

Reduced funding at universities today has them looking for new partners for research, and your association could benefit from the opportunities available. The Bayh-Dole Act allows universities, small businesses, and nonprofit organizations to own inventions developed with government funding. In fact, universities have an obligation to try to commercialize inventions when government funding is involved.

Funding university research projects produces information and innovation that adds value to association membership, and matching government funds are often available to leverage association investments. Subsequently, an association may be able to license an invention created from that research and in turn sublicense it to members. The association handles the licensing and royalty collection and provides an efficient mechanism for commercializing the invention.

Generally, the technology transfer office (TTO) is the entity at a university responsible for obtaining patents and licensing inventions. TTOs typically don't have the resources to license each invention to more than a few entities. Associations can fill the role of managing a license for multiple sublicensees.

If you want to explore the potential benefits of getting involved with research commercialization, contact a local university's TTO to learn about inventions and patents they have that aren't being commercialized. Be certain to ask if they know of other universities or TTOs that might be working with inventions more closely related to your association's purpose or industry.

Daryl Strouts, CAE, is executive director of the Kansas Wheat Alliance, Manhattan, Kansas. Email: [email protected]