Graduate Internship Supports ACREC Technologies

By Annel K. Greene, PhD, Professor and Center Director
Clemson University Animal Co-Products Research and Education Center

Recognizing that early review of the commercialization potential of research supported by the Clemson University Animal Co-Products Research and Education Center (ACREC) could improve the probability of commercial adoption, the Clemson University Research Foundation (CURF) proposed a graduate internship program last year to provide technical and business development support to researchers in the early stages of their research projects. Managed by Vincie Albritton and A. Chris Gesswein of CURF, the objective of the program is to conduct initial market analysis, customer identification, and competitive patent landscape review for new technologies proposed or in development through ACREC. Using a technology evaluation form that CURF initiates on all invention disclosures, the graduate interns gather relevant market data, potential customer data, and potential intellectual property hurdles to provide a reasonable early stage assessment on whether a commercial opportunity can be realized. This program is allowing clear decision stages for ACREC-created technologies, from proposal to final report.

Since its inception in July 2016, CURF has assigned two interns to review ACREC projects and proposals. Currently, one intern – Walker Maffit – is employed for academic year 2017-2018. Maffit is completing his masters of science degree in plant and environmental sciences with an emphasis on technology commercialization in the life sciences. Albritton, CURF deputy director, and Gesswein, CURF director of licensing for technology transfer, are leading the efforts.

The program design is based upon the foundation’s invention disclosure evaluation. However, it is implemented much earlier in the research process so that the faculty researcher can improve or restructure his or her proposal to enhance the funding probability of a research proposal, encourage continuing support of ongoing research activity, or exert right of first refusal to licensing of technology.

In addition, the information provided could shape the ongoing research to make the anticipated technology (intellectual property) more marketable. It also allows CURF to participate in the early stages of the research mechanism and will help in the foundation’s decision process in patent protection, marketing of intellectual property, and eventual licensing opportunities. This program is not only assisting ACREC efforts but is also giving interns the chance to learn about market and business opportunities and procedures for evaluating technologies for commercialization. This program will train scientists and/or engineers in commercialization strategies.

To date, CURF has received 15 invention disclosures that were supported through ACREC funding with the first having been submitted in 2008. Two of the inventions have received follow-up investment from CURF totaling $105,000 via the maturation grant program. One grant concluded in a license of the technology. Research is continuing under the other grant with a clear commercialization path outlined.

The evaluation of new technologies submitted as disclosures to CURF is a highly iterative process that is focused along paths of analysis, patentability, and commercial potential. A three-step process is used to generate the information required to make an informed decision on whether or not to make the investment to file a patent for a subject technology. In the first step, a triage assessment is conducted to identify if there are any fatal flaws that may impact the ability to file a patent. In this step, the literature is searched to identify and review any prior patents, patent applications, or prior agreements that may impact ownership or the path to commercialization.

An initial patentability analysis is conducted and statutory bar dates are evaluated in case any prior public disclosure has been made via publication or presentation that would trigger a one-year grace period in which a patent would need to be filed. In academic research, often the technology will be classified as “premature,” meaning that the technology has not yet been reduced to practice. In these cases, further proof of concept and development is necessary before a proper assessment of the patentability and commercial potential can be conducted.

Once the first step has been completed, those invention disclosures that warrant further evaluation move into the next stage where a detailed commercial assessment is conducted. Using a technology evaluation tool that has been developed by the CURF staff, the evaluation continues through commercial potential, ease of commercialization, and technical maturity. The market opportunity, size, and target market are reviewed. Market trends including potential growth rates, needs and factors driving trends, value chain analysis, and degree of innovation are examined. Once the evaluation is complete, the CURF technology commercialization officer will determine if the technology warrants further examination through internal and external review panels that provide go/no-go guidance.

In addition to reviewing pre-proposals, the interns are engaged in ongoing technology and market evaluations on ACREC inventions to assist in moving technologies to market. The goal of this program is to provide continuous feedback to the researcher and ACREC membership on the commercial viability of the research projects throughout the process. The program is also designed to better aid CURF at such time that an invention is selected for patent protection and commercial marketing, thereby increasing the probability of commercial adoption through licensing or start-up.

This is a new program for both CURF and ACREC, but the researchers have been receptive to the students’ involvement and information they have provided in the early stages of their research projects.

October 2017 RENDER | back