From Issue Winter 2016
From plants to pharmaceuticals, and everything in between, scientists in the Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station are making discoveries to improve the profitability and productivity of Mississippians. When a new innovation is made, scientists turn to the staff in MSU’s Office of Technology Management.
The Office of Technology Management works to assess, protect, and manage the intellectual property developed by Mississippi State faculty, staff, and students. The intellectual property can stem from new ideas, inventions, software, know-how, and other creative works generated by research and other scholarly activity.
“We are here to provide a service to the MSU inventors and developers,” said Kris McCandless, director of the MSU Office of Technology Management. “This includes listening to their ideas; helping them submit an invention; PVP or copyright disclosure; discussing commercialization options; and every other aspect of protecting and commercializing the technology.”
MSU’s intellectual property is one of the drivers of regional economic development, an expected outcome from state- and federally-funded research. And scientists in the Experiment Station generate a great deal of intellectual property. The MAFES portfolio currently holds more than 80 active technologies, including 42 issued U.S. patents, seven allowed and/or registered trademarks/servicemarks, and two registered copyrights.
“Perhaps the most successful technologies for the Experiment Station have been a cotton breeding line and Bermuda turfgrass,” McCandless said. “Cotton breeding lines developed in 1998 earned approximately $1.2 million for the university while the Choice Bermuda turfgrass earned over $2.5 million.”
And inventors get a piece of the pie from technologies that are licensed. The MSU policy allows inventors to reap the benefits, after expenses, by receiving a percentage of any license revenue. The remainder of the license funds generated supports the inventor’s department, the university, and the research program.
The MSU Sweet Potato Challenge is a prime example of how funding is returned to the research program.
“In the Sweet Potato Challenge, students develop innovative products out of culled sweet potatoes,” McCandless said. “The hope is that these novel ideas may be patented and licensed with a portion of the license income going back into the program for other students to develop more innovative products.”
And while originality is primary in protecting the technologies, such as patents, sometimes, the economics just don’t work out.
“When we receive a disclosure or a phone call about a technology, we work to determine if the innovation is protectable by a patent, copyright, or trademark, etc., if it has commercial value or if commercialization is viable, and identify potential licensees,” McCandless said.
While the technology may be novel and protectable, it may be too expensive for an industry to produce or it has a limited market, McCandless added.
Timing is everything when protecting technologies. Under recent changes to the U.S. patent law, patent rights are accorded to the first inventor to file a patent application with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Additionally, if the research findings are published ahead of patenting the technology, international patent rights are lost and U.S. patent rights are lost if the publication is released more than a year before the patent application is filed.
The Office of Technology Management is the first line of defense in protecting new innovations. While most of MAFES technology is agriculturally-based, some of the new technology includes pharmaceuticals and a catfish vaccine delivery system.
“Scientists in the Experiment Station are innovators,” McCandless said. “We are proud to work with them to protect their inventions and help them market these inventions to spur economic growth and development.”