A slip of the tongue could be the downfall of months, or years, of research.
It could even result in the loss of intellectual property.
Purdue professor Cagri Savran discusses a pending patent last week on his device while in his office at Purdue’s Birck Nanotechnology Center. (By Jordan Kartholl/Journal & Courier)
To prevent that from happening, Cagri Savran sometimes passes his material to the Purdue Research Foundation’s Office of Technology Commercialization for a quick review before publishing a paper on research developments or having his students give a talk on their related work.
“These ideas didn’t come easily. They come with a long time of thought and research,” said Savran, an associate professor of mechanical engineering and biomedical engineering who focuses on nanotechnology devices. “If you believe there is a potential for commercialization, you don’t want to miss the opportunity.”
That opportunity is something Purdue works hard to protect and shepherd into a commercial use that can benefit not just the university financially but the lives of people around the world.
To hammer that point home, the World Intellectual Property Organization held its 11th annual World Intellectual Property Day the last week of April.
The United Nations agency was created to promote awareness of intellectual property — the copyright of patents, industrial designs and trademarks.
The theme this year for the day was “Designing the Future.” Francis Gurry, the organization’s director said ecologically sound living is becoming an increased emphasis.
“Sustainable design processes can help lower production costs and reduce environmental impact,” he said. “The designs of the future will necessarily be green, and the intellectual property system will encourage designers to produce them, by helping to protect original designs against unauthorized copying and imitation.”
But at Purdue, a team at the Office of Technology Commercialization is working all year to uncover research on campus that could have meaningful uses outside the laboratory.
Elizabeth Hart-Wells, assistant vice president and director for technology commercialization, said everything happening on campus is patentable. Many discoveries are released to help the general public.
“If we do patent something, we want to be able to attract a development partner and take the intangible innovation and make it into a tangible product that will impact the public. It doesn’t help to have it sitting in a lab notebook.”
The foundation’s Office of Technology Commercialization doubled the number of issued patents from Purdue faculty in 2009. Worldwide Purdue was issued 97 patents for 2009, compared to 46 for 2008.
But just because issued patents are high one year, doesn’t mean it will continue, Hart-Wells says. It can take up to three years for a patent to be approved. In 2007, worldwide patents for Purdue numbered 92. In 2006, it was 80.
In calendar year 2008, Purdue Research Foundation reported royalty income of $3.4 million.
Royalties from patented products and ideas are divided three ways: between the inventors, the inventors’ departments and the Research Foundation-managed Trask Innovation Fund.
The fund creates ways to assist faculty with additional work to further commercial potential of their inventions.
Increasing commercialization is one method Purdue President France Córdova has said could help generate more revenue, as the university sees its state appropriations decline.
Savran regularly communicates with Matt McFarland at the Office of Technology Commercialization, to keep him abreast of work he and students are doing in their Birck Nanotechnology Center lab.
A patent by Savran and others under review is for a nano-chip designed as a biological and chemical sensor.
The sensor is a flexible, water-insoluble “hydrogel” formed into a series of raised stripes called a “diffraction grating.” The small chip the stripes are on — less than the size of a finger nail — is coated with gold on both the stripes and the spaces in between the stripes.
Savran is collaborating with another team of researchers led by Babak Ziaie, a Purdue professor of electrical and computer engineering and biomedical engineering. Savran said the idea is that the sensor could be commercialized to detect environmental changes or glucose monitoring in blood.
But the current model is designed to measure pH levels.
“The gel swells when the pH increases,” Savran said. “But the hydrogel can be tailored to the customer’s need.”
So, when the nano-chip comes in contact with a solution, the stripes expand and contract depending on the pH level of the environment.
The device is extremely sensitive, capable of detecting changes smaller than one-1,000th on the pH scale by measuring swelling of only a few nanometers.
A nanometer is about 50,000 times smaller than the finest sand grain.
With the help of McFarland, interested commercial partners can contact the technology commercialization office to find out more and discuss possible uses of the hydrogel.