MN-IP: Fast-tracking sponsored research at the U

Arthur Erdman

A pioneering program at the University of Minnesota promises to speed connections between businesses and researchers at the U.

“This is big,” explains Arthur Erdman, Ph.D., director of the Medical Devices Center at the U. “The Minnesota Innovation Partnerships program makes it much easier for companies to sponsor research at the U.”

Prior to Minnesota Innovation Partnerships (MN-IP), companies might spend months negotiating the terms for a sponsored research agreement. The most common sticking point for companies is who will own rights to the resulting intellectual property (IP). Now, MN-IP’s unique business model automatically removes this barrier.

Under MN-IP, a business that sponsors research pays an upfront fee of 10 percent of the sponsored research agreement (or fifteen thousand dollars, whichever is greater), in exchange for exclusive worldwide rights to intellectual property that arises from the research project.

A win-win for the business and research communities, MN-IP gives companies direct access to the brainpower and infrastructure of the U while making it easy for them to sponsor research on favorable, flexible terms. When the technology resulting from the research is ready, companies are holding the pre-set licensing terms in their hands.

The MN-IP program will likely increase the quantity of research projects funded by businesses at the U. It will also keep U of M researchers and graduate students at work on valuable innovations while broadening the base of business in Minnesota. About 44 projects have gotten underway since its availability in early 2012.

The first of its kind in the nation, MN-IP has been referred to as a “game changer” in the world of sponsored university research and was recognized the by U.S. Department of Commerce and the White House as a groundbreaking approach. Several institutions, including the University of Iowa and Iowa State University, now have similar programs and other universities are quickly following suit.

The program’s popularity is a reflection of just how much a new approach to sponsored research is needed. In the early phases of research, it is very difficult to project the ultimate commercial value of projects. This uncertainty can tie up lawyers and capital in negotiations for an extended period of time. This is enough to stop many projects from progressing past the first discussion.

Erdman, who has more than 30 patents to his name, says that “it only takes 15 minutes of conversation with a business about joint research before I start getting tough questions about intellectual property ownership and royalties. Now, when the IP issue comes up,” Erdman explains, “I have a good response and can move forward with the company exploring a partnership.”

The Medical Devices Center, which focuses on research, training and education, has initiated $300,000 in business-sponsored research that it would not have without the MN-IP program, according to Erdman.

Most MN-IP projects are confidential, but Erdman was free to describe a recent partnership with Boston Scientific, a leader in medical manufacturing. “The Medical Devices Center and Department of Computer Sciences are working together with Boston Scientific to develop a virtual prototyping system for designing medical devices. The process uses computational methods and simulation early in the development of a medical device to explore how it will work with human anatomy.”

Erdman says there now only three such systems in the world—two at the University of Minnesota and one at Boston Scientific. “With this system, you can do a massive amount of testing in a virtual space prior to animal and human trial. You can then go to bench tests with 3-D printing to verify that what you have in the virtual space is realistic.” The MN-IP process enabled research to move quickly to its second phase of development, and Erdman expects a new round of funding this summer.

Erdman is bullish on MN-IP. “It’s amazing how many varieties of expertise we have at the university. For companies that have research needs, it would be unlikely not to find help here. The university should be first in line for them.”

Resources:
Minnesota Innovation Partnerships
Medical Devices Center
Office of Business Relations

Post by Vincent Hyman, a freelance writer based in St. Paul, Minn. Photo by Andria Waclawski.

Originally published on Business @ the U of M.