Entrepreneurial engineers driving growth in technology commercialization

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The Ohio State University’s startup portfolio is growing and creatively disrupting industries such as healthcare, information technology, materials, transportation, agribusiness and more, producing profound change in the way we live.

A significant share of this innovation is occurring in College of Engineering labs and research centers.

Between fiscal years 2016 and 2023, College of Engineering faculty members have launched 36 companies based on technology they have invested years to develop; 28 are still operational and one was acquired. The most active sectors in this time period have been robotics, sensors and advanced manufacturing and medical devices, diagnostics and imaging.

Launched in late 2021, Ohio State spinout DNA Nanobots is based on the work of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Professor Carlos Castro. Since 2013, Castro and colleagues have been diligently developing DNA based nanodevices (nanobots) for biomedical applications including targeted chemotherapies, vaccines, point-of-care diagnostics and functionalized gene delivery.

Carlos Castro
Castro

“We have a broad intellectual property portfolio in place,” said Castro, “and we’re positioning to be a leader in product development services in the DNA nanomedicine space for the biopharmaceutical, biotechnology and academic research sectors.”

But before an Ohio State spinout company can be launched, two critical milestones occur beforehand — invention disclosure and patent filing. The university’s technology commercialization team, located within the Office of Innovation and Economic Development, is the first resource for inventors at the university. They regularly engage with faculty and staff to help evaluate, protect and ultimately find the right market for intellectual property — through licensing or creating a startup company.

In fiscal year (FY) 2023, College of Engineering researchers filed 154 invention disclosures, up from 137 in FY 2022 and accounting for 39% of all invention disclosures at Ohio State. And invention disclosure is the official written notice of a university invention and the first step in protecting and advancing intellectual property.

The technology commercialization team assesses each disclosure to decide which inventions merit filing for a patent. In FY 2023, 174 provisional and 82 non-provisional patent applications were filed for College of Engineering faculty inventions, up from 131 and 75 in FY 2022, respectively. A provisional patent application is a less expensive and quicker way to gain invention protection, allowing 12 months for the inventor to test and perfect a concept prior to filing for a full patent. Forty-five patents were issued for College of Engineering inventions in FY 2023, up from 40 in FY 2022.

Sometimes launching a startup company is not the most logical or beneficial path. Another successful technology commercialization outcome is licensing — when an existing company is granted the specific rights to use, develop, and commercialize intellectual property, such as patents, copyrights, or other proprietary technologies.

Tanya Nocera holding her Journiquet device in a lab
Nocera holding the Journiquet device

Tanya Nocera is co-founder and vice president of research and development for HDO Health, which licensed her technology. The biomedical engineering associate professor of practice co-invented the Journiquet™, a non­invasive, single-use medical device designed to stop junctional bleeding quickly and effectively. It can be deployed within approximately 20 seconds in high-stress environments such as the battlefield, motor vehicle crashes and active shooter situations.

Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering Professor Liang-Shih Fan’s groundbreaking clean energy technology has been licensed by two companies in the past two years. Akron-based Babcock & Wilcox licensed Fan’s chemical looping process and oxygen carrier particle used for decarbonization and the production of hydrogen, steam and/or syngas. Tata Steel licensed Fan’s chemical looping platform technology to utilize energy from off-gases in steel production to generate sustainable hydrogen, thereby mitigating the industry's carbon footprint.

LS Fan in his lab
Fan

“We challenge all of our researchers to apply innovation to problems of consequence,” said College of Engineering Dean Ayanna Howard. “Professor Fan’s incredible work at the intersection of chemical engineering and sustainability epitomizes this ambition. I believe that he and his team are just scratching the surface of this technology’s green energy potential.”

In May 2023, Ohio State and Audubon Metals entered into a licensing agreement to advance commercialization of technology developed by Alan Luo, professor of materials science and engineering and integrated systems engineering. Luo’s innovation could increase die cast manufacturing usage of recycled aluminum alloys, which cost half as much and require a fraction of the energy of mined alloys.

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