A NEW APPROACH
The energetic Berneman, a Northeast Philadelphia native who commutes each week from Fairfax, Va., where his son is finishing high school, likes to say he was the only person qualified and crazy enough to do this job. His background as a former education professor at the University of Houston and founder of two technology companies, helps him bridge the worlds of academe and industry.
Frank Slattery, L'64, who has been involved with CTT in forming two start-up companies (Transom Technologies, Inc., and Basis Learning) calls Berneman "probably one of the four or five best people at [tech transfer] in the country. He's able to understand what it is academics fear about business, and to allay those fears. He certainly knows his way through the bureaucratic jungle that is any [university]. And he's able to deal with venture-capital entrepreneurs, because he's been there before."
Berneman quickly recruited a new team of people to CTT and re-engineered its programs. One of the first practices to go was the "cradle to grave" approach that Penn -- and most other universities -- had traditionally taken to tech transfer. In the past, individual managers had handled each step of the process, from reviewing an invention disclosure to marketing and licensing. Berneman decided it would be more productive to assign specialists on his staff to handle each case at a different stage in development -- and to function as a team. CTT was the first in the country to have a director of intellectual property (Evelyn McConathy) and a licensing director (Vincent di Felice, GPU'89) dedicated exclusively
to start-up companies. "Other universities appear to be watching us and adopting aspects of our new model," Berneman says.
Together, CTT's full-time staff of 14 could compose one impressively diverse resume: McConathy, for instance, is a cellular and molecular biologist and a patent attorney. CTT's director of licensing life sciences, Alan Dickason, has a Ph.D. in organic chemistry and founded his own start-up company before coming to CTT. Alfred Glessner, GCh'67, Gr'69, the director of operations and licensing, has a Ph.D. in chemical engineering. In addition to a Ph.D. in physics, Peter Kramer, director of licensing physical sciences, brings to CTT his work experience from a big pharmaceutical company and a small biotech company. The varied backgrounds are an asset, Berneman says, because, "These people have to coexist in two worlds simultaneously. I wish I could think of the word -- it's a sci-fi word. There is a creature that exists -- a cyborg, maybe. We have two sets of customers. We have our internal customers, faculty and administrators; we have our external customers, people in the private sector who are investing in these technologies -- and we have to understand both."
To decide which new technologies to act on, CTT goes through what it calls "triage assessment," identifying the cases with the greatest need and greatest commercial potential. But in the unpredictable marketplace, this task can seem more like prophesy than science. "Nine times out of 10," Berneman says, "we'll be wrong!" What CTT -- and most universities engaged in tech transfer -- counts on is being right that one time out of 10. (At Stanford, for example, a single patent on recombinant DNA brought in $200 million for the university before it expired last December. Berneman sometimes wonders what royalties ENIAC -- the first electronic, large-scale, general-purpose computer -- would have brought the University had it been invented at another time and under different circumstances.)
With dreams of hitting such "home runs" in the back of his mind, Berneman says CTT's goal is to eventually have half of its technologies licensed by the time they're patented, a process that can take anywhere from two to five years and cost $20,000 to $100,000. To entice potential commercial partners, CTT's homepage (www.upenn.edu/ctt) includes an online boutique of technologies available for licensing -- from "novel therapeutic agents for the treatment of asthma" to "electrostrictive acoustic wave sensors" to "techniques for the detection of illegally altered lobsters." Licenses are the agreements that define terms and conditions for the right to develop inventions into commercial products.
March Contents |
Copyright 1998 The Pennsylvania Gazette Last modified 3/17/98