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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

UMB Patently Successful

UMass Boston is abuzz with talk of patents, inventions and scientific breakthroughs, thanks to the work of the Venture Development Center. The VDC, an organization dedicated to helping faculty achieve new heights in scientific research and development, is setting the scientific precedent for UMB.

The center, which acts a liaison between patent-seeking faculty and invention-thirsty business, has only been operating for a few years, but already the hard work seems to be paying off. The VDC’s director, William Brah, couldn’t be more pleased.

“[Even though] the university is being recognized as a research university, it’s probably one of our best kept secrets that we have patents because we’re just getting started…and encouraging that kind of homegrown innovation,” said Brah.

So far, UMB has had six patents issued and currently has three or four inventions in the works, including green batteries, cutting-edge microscopes, optical storage discs and a bacterial sensor, among others.

Even though the University of Massachusetts as a whole generated a cool $38 million last year, ranking in the top 15 licensing income universities in the country, UMB contributed only $1,000. Brah, however, sees optimism in numbers and hope in baby steps.

“Even the medical center [UMass Worcester] began with its first $1,000…the first $1,000 is more difficult than the rest, and once you get rolling, it just keeps on going,” he said.

UMB’s highest-profile invention thus far? Dr. Gopal Rao in the physics department invented a way to digitally detect breast cancer in a much easier way, and with a much greater resolution than current methods, such as mammograms. The VDC is currently in the process of drafting a grant proposal to further the research on this exciting project.

The patent process can take up to five years, Brah explained, and involves a lot of hard work. What begins with a lightbulb of an idea requires federal and scientific grants to manifest itself into research. If and when the additional grants result in a never-before-seen invention, faculty members can, after consulting with lawyers and getting evaluated by peers, apply for a patent. To protect inventors while they wait for approval, many are granted ‘provisional patents,’ Brah explained, until their patents are issued. During this time, universities and inventors shop around to find corporations such as 3M to subsidize patent costs and invest in the invention.

“The chances of getting a patent and having it licensed are small, because it’s very competitive. For a faculty member, having an invention and a patent is similar in terms of their professional development and recognition to having an article in a very prestigious journal or winning a big grant,” Brah said.

If a company does decide to invest in a patent, the entire university is better off, with the lucky faculty member being able to use those funds to conduct more research or invest in grad students.

If that weren’t enough, the VDC will have even more to smile about when construction begins on an 18,000 sq. foot research facility in Wheatley this July. The old space will be renovated and replaced with a modern, technology-savvy design built to support people who want to pursue big research ideas and develop inventions.

With the huge success of the VDC in aiding the patenting of inventions, and now a giant architectural paradise in which to conduct that research, Brah says the greater goal of the UMB is coming to fruition.

“A university’s reputation is powerfully shaped by the research it does and the impact it has on society and peoples lives, and this is just another way (patenting and licensing) of getting our work out and serving our mission,” he said.