Eye on the future: Starting up


WHAT: The Center for Technology Transfer (CTT), at 3160 Chestnut St., Suite 200, led by Executive Director Michael J. Cleare and Deputy Executive Director John Swartley. The CTT is dedicated to moving Penn’s world-class research and commercially relevant discoveries to the marketplace by using technology developed at the University to help establish start-up companies and business ventures. In the last five years, companies have been looking at universities as in-depth integrated partners, particularly in the area of science. CTT services are available to Penn faculty for free.
INVENTORS WANTED: The CTT, which was founded in 1986, receives between 350 and 400 invention disclosures per year. Swartley says each disclosure is put through an “invention triage process” by licensing and intellectual property specialists to determine if the proposed invention is protectable, desirable, and marketable. The specialists also recommend how the invention should be managed.

WATCHFUL PROTECTORS: Faculty who take advantage of the CTT before they publish a paper can protect their work’s patentability, and also preserve their potential rights for a possible invention. Through the CTT, Penn covers all patent costs at no charge to the professor. “It’s absolutely in the professor’s interest to come see us first,” Cleare says. “The only way that you can make technology work is to protect it. That’s why patenting is important.”

INNOVATION STATION: The CTT’s UPSTART program helps to shepherd and catalyze new businesses and start-ups through direct collaboration and partnerships with Penn faculty. The CTT does not provide financing, but it does seek outside third parties to provide capital and management.

JOB CREATORS: “In the last 20 years, well over 100 companies have been spun out of Penn,” Swartley says. “Right now we have 50-plus projects in development, some of which are pretty mature and some of which are fairly embryonic.” He says the CTT has created a sustained venture creation model, which contributes to the local economy and the overall goal of commercializing technology.

SUCCESS STORIES: RightCare Solutions, developed by Penn Nursing professor Kathryn Bowles, came out of the UPSTART program, as did Axonia Medical, which leverages ground-breaking discoveries made by Douglas H. Smith, director of the Center for Brain Injury and Repair at Penn Medicine. In August, Penn partnered with pharmaceutical company Novartis to advance the work of Carl June, director of translational research at the Abramson Cancer Center. “That’s one of the largest university deals ever,” Cleare says.

SOUTH OF CENTER: Swartley says a number of UPSTART companies have moved into space at Penn’s new South Bank site, and Michael D. Poisel, director of the UPSTART program, has been working with South Bank staff to establish what they hope will be a defined incubator presence at the site.

CHANGING LANDSCAPE: Swartley says technology transfer is changing rapidly and will morph into innovation and commercialization. “And I think President Gutmann has gotten that,” he says. “There’s no question that she’s figured out that the modern university is going to be an integrated, commercial participant, is going to have these integrated relationships with industry, is going to participate in the early innovation process either through start-ups or incubators, or direct funding. That is the role of the modern research institution.”

CTT ONLINE: Find the website at www.ctt.upenn.edu.

Originally published on December 13, 2012