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Two big Portland universities join up to harness patents

'Tech-transfer' plan aims for financial plus educational benefits

A new arrangement is inspiring hope that Portland's biggest universities will succeed in capturing more of the commercial benefits of the research they sponsor.

Oregon Health & Science University, in a joint announcement with Portland State University, said last week that it will help PSU researchers patent their technologies.

The arrangement means that OHSU will evaluate, patent, market and license inventions that come from Portland State. OHSU will continue to commercialize its own technologies as well.

Don Krahmer, an attorney who has spearheaded efforts to revitalize the state's high-tech sector and improve its high-tech education, called the agreement 'the first sign that Oregon higher education has taken a serious look at doing a better job of commercializing its research.'

The announcement spotlights the growing commitment of the state's institutions of higher learning to producing more engineering graduates, as well as improving their own financial outlook.

While the definition of the term 'tech transfer' varies, in this case it refers to PSU's taking advantage of OHSU's expertise as it commercializes PSU-spawned patents. The process essentially will help convert PSU research into salable technology.

High-tech and education proponents have touted tech transfer as one of several components that can impel Oregon's universities to produce more engineering graduates.

Through the agreement, PSU will pay an annual fee in the $20,000 range to OHSU's Technology and Research Collaborations office for the tech-transfer services. The fee will be determined by OHSU's anticipated workload.

While OHSU would share in profits from any technologies that were developed, PSU would receive the resulting patents.

OHSU has comparable agreements with Portland's Veterans Affairs Medical Center and Shriners Hospital for Children.

OHSU already has begun evaluating potential commercial applications for three PSU inventions:

• Polymeric coatings for semiconductors, developed by Mingdi Yan, an assistant professor of organic chemistry and material science.

• A method to concentrate samples for gas chromatography, which separates and analyzes complex gases, created by Robert O'Brien, a professor of physical chemistry.

• A method for localizing the development of carbon nanotubes, a process that helps designers create semiconductors, by Jun Jiao, an assistant professor of physics.

Todd Sherer, OHSU's director of technology and research collaborations, said OHSU makes 'daily contact' with researchers in such fields as information technology, environmental science, and general engineering and biomedical sciences.

'The medical device area is big, particularly here in Oregon, since we have a more mature device industry,' Sherer said. OHSU and its OGI School of Science and Engineering are considering creating a biomedical engineering department, he added.