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Patents, Start-Ups Increase in 2013 at U.S. University Labs

Advanced Technology Lab

Advanced Technology Lab, University of Iowa (A. Kotok)

10 September 2014. The numbers of patents filed, licensing income, and start-ups generated by research at U.S. universities last year all increased, according to an annual survey conducted by the Association of University Technology Managers (AUTM), the organization of university staff responsible for research commercialization. The survey covers 202 responding institutions of 299 contacted, or 68 percent, including not-for-profit research institutes and hospitals, to a survey about research on their campuses during their 2013 fiscal year.

The institutions spent somewhat more money on research in 2013, with the total expenditures increasing 2.3 percent to $65.1 billion. Much of that spending increase is a result of a jump in corporate research support, which rose 11 percent to $4.58 billion. That rise in industry support offset a small (0.7%) decline in federal research spending, which still makes up the largest source of university research funds at $39.9 billion.

Discoveries in U.S. labs kept intellectual property (IP) lawyers at universities and research institutes busy in 2013. The number of patents filed in the U.S. last year gained 11 percent to 24,555, with patents filed outside the U.S. increasing even more (23%) to 1,472. The institutions received 5,714 new U.S. patents last year, also an 11 percent jump over 2012. IP lawyers were well-paid for their efforts, to the tune of $367 million last year, up 6.4 percent, for which the universities received $157 million in reimbursement.

Research from university labs also generated more spin-off companies last year. The institutions report a total of 818 new companies formed last year, to take research in their labs to market, a gain of 16 percent compared to 2012. In addition, 3 out of every 4 of these start-ups (611 of 818)  had their headquarters in the same state as the institution, a rise of 10 percent from last year.

AUTM says 4,206 of these spin-off companies over the years are still in business, a 5 percent increase. However, businesses formed as a result of research on these campuses employ the equivalent of 15,336 full-time employees (based on responses from 78 of the 202 responding institutions), a decline of nearly 3 percent from last year.

These spin-off enterprises and other businesses increased the number new licenses of patents from university labs in 2013, but only slightly. The number of new licenses increased about 1 percent to 5,198. But the total number of licenses and options — extended rights to the IP — held by the institutions climbed 8 percent to nearly 43,300. These licenses generated some $2.75 billion for the institutions in fiscal year 2013, up somewhat from 2.6 billion in the previous year, of which just over $2 billion comes from royalties, also up slightly from $1.9 billion in 2012.

Enterprises formed as a result of research in university labs created 719 new products in 2013, a gain of 22 percent. Sales revenues from products made by spin-off companies. however, dropped sharply in 2013, down 38 percent, to $22.8 billion. AUTM attributes the revenue decline to expiration of patents on pharmaceuticals, as health care providers switch from brand-name to lower-priced generic versions of those drugs.

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