Florida 'Inventors' University

There are three i’s that all inventors have in common: imagination, ingenuity and innovation. Add in patience and a lot of time to that mix, and you end up with some incredible discoveries, such as saccharine, seat belts, plexiglass and LASER cataract surgery. All of those, and many, many more, were developed at universities.

The National Academy of Inventors (NAI) was founded in 2010 to recognize investigators at universities and not-for-profit research institutes who translate their research findings into inventions that may benefit society. NAI’s goals include encouraging inventors who have a patent issued from the United States Patent and Trademark Office, enhancing the visibility of university and non-profit research institute technology and academic innovation, encouraging the disclosure of intellectual property, and educating and mentoring innovative students.

FIU is one of NAI’s 64 Charter Member Institutions. Many FIU faculty have multiple patents for their inventions, including Sakhrat Khizroev, professor of immunology and co-chair of the FIU Center for Personalized NanoMedicine. Khizroev was recently named a Charter Fellow by the NAI.

Peter Sandberg, president of NAI, visited FIU recently to induct 26 FIU faculty as inventor members and to encourage faculty to work together to create real-world innovations through research. Sandberg, who is also senior vice president for research and innovation at the University of South Florida, noted that he founded NAI in part because he wanted to change the culture in universities. “I was at USF for 20 years without any idea of what people were working on,” he said. “Universities have the talent and the brainpower – it’s important to communicate that to each other and to the community.”

FIU is making a new effort to build its own community of inventors. Pedro Hernandez, who joined the university in 2012 as the new director of Technology Management and Commercialization, is implementing new processes to help streamline the patent process for researchers. His office is also presenting several educational workshops and events throughout the year to give guidance in technology transfer, financing and opportunities for inventors.Anuradha Godavarty with her invention

“As researchers, you sometimes have blinders and you need to take them off because problems can be solved in multiple ways,” Hernandez points out.

A major hurdle in technology transfer is funding. Securing funding once an invention has been patented can seem so daunting that some faculty might not even choose to move forward with their invention and attempt to commercialize it. The Office of Technology Management is working hard to build relationships with angel investors, the Florida Institute for the Commercialization of Public Research, and others to assist with funding. Recently, the office sponsored an SBIR/STTR workshop for researchers so that they could learn how to compete for much needed commercialization funding from these government programs.

In addition to Hernandez’s group, the new dean of the College of Business, David Klock, has also offered assistance. Klock says that his college can help with product commercialization and securing “proof of concept capital.”

“Business students can help engineering students get the concept out the door,” Klock says.

That extra help will come in handy as FIU becomes more attuned to the process of innovation and commercialization. There are numerous faculty inventions in the process of becoming patented and Hernandez anticipates many more to come. “This university has grown so fast and has so much to offer,” he says.

Pictured: Anuradha Godavarty, associate professor of biomedical engineering, with one of her recent inventions.