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Inside Iowa State, a newspaper for faculty and staff, is published by the Office of University Relations.

March 9, 2007

An improved approach to marketing inventions

by Samantha Beres

The Iowa State University Research Foundation Inc. (ISURF) is changing the way it does business, change that staff hope will have a positive impact on inventors who want to take their technology to market.

Now, ISURF intends to offer inventors more opportunity to take part in the process if they so choose. Inventors can become involved in the process early on to help determine marketability of their products. They also will be invited to the disclosure meeting and encouraged to interact with ISURF as a team to market their technologies to prospective companies.

"That interaction adds value to the marketing process," said senior licensing associate Eddie Boylston. "If ISURF and the inventor act as a team in approaching the company, from the business and scientific perspective, we'll have a much higher probability of success."

Transparency is the word

The change in process for ISURF is the result of a well-known workshop in the business world called Kaizen. Loosely translated, the Japanese word means "continuous improvement."

Increased involvement of inventors in marketing their technologies is one of the many outcomes ISURF staff took from the workshop. Another is that each inventor will be assigned one main point of contact, a licensing associate who dialogues with an inventor about the strengths and weaknesses of the invention.

This kind of knowledge will add to the efficiency of marketing, Boylston said. The information can have a positive effect, even in the event that there are weaknesses.

"A common concern is showing a company that we can produce enough of a material," Boylston said. "If an inventor knows that's a problem, he or she can approach the project with those issues in mind, even a future project.

"Through these efforts, we aspire to provide improved quality of service by helping the inventor address market needs more efficiently," he said.

More technologies licensed

If the marketing process is more efficient, it may help ISURF meet its goal of increasing licenses and options by 20 percent in fiscal year 2008. ISURF gets about 120 invention disclosures a year.

Since 1999, ISURF has given an annual grant to the Office of the Vice President for Research and Economic Development. Funds are used to recruit and retain world-class researchers. Grant amounts have increased over the years, totaling more than $5 million so far.

But it's certainly not all up to the inventors. The Kaizen workshop helped ISURF cut the steps in the process of disclosure to market almost in half, from about 150 to about 80. There also is a new goal of making the decision, to market or not to market, within 90 days of receiving a complete disclosure.

"The idea is to streamline the process and to use our resources more effectively here," said Kenneth Kirkland, executive director of the research foundation. "We're here to help inventors through the process and we're interested in learning more about their inventions so everybody can benefit from the process."


ISURF at a glance

Iowa State University Research Foundation Inc. is a not-for-profit corporation established in 1938 to own, manage and protect the intellectual property of the university. It relies on income from royalties on license agreements, as well as investment income from its $23 million endowment. ISURF receives no state appropriation or financial support from the university.

Inventors who have used significant university resources in their research disclose their inventions to ISURF.