May 27, 2011
By Scott Bell
By Kris Foster
The university’s Industry Liaison Office (ILO) continues growing year over year by following a simple mantra: creativity commercialized. Glen Schuler, managing director, ILO, said that the economic impact the office had over the last year is “conservatively estimated at $9 million.”
But that figure only scratches the surface of what the ILO does. “It is an important office because it moves university technology and research out to the marketplace faster,” explained Schuler. “It is critical to get this into the hands of the public where it benefits society. If we aren’t licensing technology and getting it to the public, we aren’t being successful.”
In 2010/11 fiscal year, the office managed 43 active licenses, an increase of almost 33 per cent since the end of the 2009 fiscal year. Coupling the 2010/11 ILO licensing revenues (almost $6 million) with that earned by other units on campus (over $1.25 million) puts the U of S in the top 10 per cent of Canadian universities and top 30 per cent of North American universities when compared to the latest data from the Association of University Technology Managers.
In simplest terms, what the ILO does is connect researchers with industry in order to commercialize findings. “We identify those technologies that have the highest commercial potential, patent them and then search for companies that can commercialize them,” Schuler explained.
Commercialization takes a lot of work, explained Schuler, adding that of all the products that receive patents, one study noted that only about three per cent make it to the marketplace. Patents are expensive propositions, costing tens of thousands of dollars to process them before the product is commercialized. This is one reason the ILO is becoming selective in determining which innovations to commercialize.
Another area that the ILO is getting involved in is start-up companies – five have been launched in the past two years. “This is an area of potential growth. It will take time, but the economic benefit for Saskatoon and the province will be significant.”
One of the more interesting parts for Schuler is the number and variety of technologies that are developed in U of S facilities that come through the ILO and then make their way to the public. One example Schuler mentioned is a green catalyst developed by U of S engineering professor Hui Wang and his team and licensed to California-based Carbon Sciences. This technology transforms carbon dioxide and methane—both potent greenhouse gases—much more efficiently into synthesis gas, a basic feedstock for producing gasoline and other fuels, than Carbon Sciences’ existing catalyst. Carbon Sciences’ CEO Byron Elton has indicated that this technology is a game changer for his business, said Schuler.
While the development of the catalyst took more than a decade, the license agreement process, took only 24 days, an unusually short length of time, he said. “This process can be complicated, time consuming and costly. We strive to develop collaborative processes and make it easy for both researchers and industry to work with us.”