Patenting an invention and using it as the foundation for a new business is never a solo endeavor, according to Jim Fay, serial inventor and keynote speaker at MU’s April 29 “Taking Your Ideas to Market” virtual event.
“It is an endeavor that requires pitching constantly – pitching to get money, pitching to get equipment, pitching to get space, pitching to get research and development assistance – everything is about pitching,” said Fay, a product development engineer whose inventions include the Diaper Genie, Huggies Baby Wipes, Huggies Pull-Ups training pants and DEUS Rescue equipment for firefighters.
The purpose of the celebration, which was held in conjunction with World Intellectual Property Day, was to honor Mizzou innovators with 126 new invention disclosures, 29 issued patents, 70 license and option agreements, three startup companies based on MU research and first product sales accomplished during the July 2019 to December 2020 time period. View booklet featuring the honorees.
“Our faculty, staff and students are at the core of early-stage innovations that can be further developed in commercial settings,” said Tom Spencer, interim vice chancellor for research and economic development. “Their achievements are helping Mizzou contribute to the overall good of society while advancing the university’s research and economic development missions.”
Fay, who also teaches entrepreneurial courses at Iowa State University, spoke about the originality and creativity of inventors and how difficult it is to obtain a patent. An invention has to be novel, useful and nonobvious.
“Failing the usefulness test is why the Pet Rock wasn’t patentable,” Fay said. “The nonobvious requirement is so tough that if you can see ahead to the outcome of the research you’re doing, it is by definition, obvious and, therefore, not patentable. There has to be an aha moment.”
MU innovators definitely have their share of “aha” moments, and they come from a wide array of disciplines, including agriculture, plant sciences, health care, journalism, engineering, education, veterinary medicine, chemistry and physics. Patents were issued in the last 18 months for animal and plant biotechnologies, computer software, devices and tools, diagnostics, therapeutics and engineering solutions. The Technology Advancement Office (TAO), led by Assistant Vice Chancellor Lisa Lorenzen, evaluates and protects faculty and staff inventions.
“The process starts when TAO receives an Invention Disclosure Form,” Lorenzen said. “My team and I look forward to finding creative solutions to bring those innovations to the marketplace, where Mizzou can make a real difference for Missourians and beyond.”
On average, MU researchers disclose about 100 new inventions annually. The university received $12.4 million in FY20 from companies licensing the rights to its intellectual property. Recent examples include a gene therapy to treat hearing loss, a mobile app for behavioral health researchers and a screening technology for autism.
“Invention is a process that involves preparation, incubation, inspiration, perspiration, frustration and elation,” Fay said. “Inventors are real life magicians. They are unsung heroes who change the world and make our lives better.”
University resources for innovators
Mizzou Lab 2 Market is a network of contacts, programs and services available to inventors navigating the multi-faceted commercialization process.
A startup guide that includes requirements and resources is available for employees interested in founding a company based on MU research.
The Mizzou Venture Mentoring Service surrounds the most promising MU-affiliated startup companies with confidential and trusted volunteer business mentor teams.
Missouri StartupTree is an online community and global platform for UM System innovators and entrepreneurs. Users can recruit collaborators for business ventures and projects, connect with mentors and investors, plus find resources and programs.
MU is a member institution in the National Academy of Inventors and established Mizzou’s chapter in 2015 to promote and foster innovation on campus.