Below is a high-level overview of the process we follow to assist you in getting your Pitt innovations from the lab to the market. The process will give you a basic understanding of where to begin, how to protect your ideas, how to position your innovation for commercial markets, and what to expect for your efforts. Success will depend substantially on your active participation in the process. For more detailed information about the process and supporting resources, please see our Inventor’s Guide. The Innovation Institute will assist you along the way, making the technology commercialization endeavor a team effort from beginning to end.
Pitt innovators conquered polio, pioneered TV and heavier-than-air flight, and turned Pittsburgh into the world’s organ-transplantation capital, among many other breakthroughs. Today’s Pitt researchers carry on that tradition in areas ranging from literary criticism to the quest for quantum computers to re-growing organs inside lymph nodes. (Learn more about how Pitt researchers have made a difference: http://www.pitt.edu/research/making-a-difference.)
Pitt’s research and commitment to innovation has made a significant impact on the world. From 2017 to 2021 Pitt received notifications of 1,768 new inventions made in its laboratories, had 503 patents granted, entered into 711 deals for innovations created on campus and spun out 87 companies based on discoveries innovated at Pitt. This is among the most commercial activities of any other university in the US.
As your research progresses and you begin to consider whether your work may have the potential to one day make an impact outside the University, you might be curious about how the commercialization process works within a University. The rest of this guide is dedicated to the commercialization process and how the Office of Innovation and Entrepreneurship can assist you in achieving impact for your work off campus and connect you to the people and resources to help you along your commercialization journey. First, let’s review the Baye-Dole act and its impact on university commercialization.
Once you believe you have a potential invention as a result of your research, you should submit an invention disclosure to the Innovation Institute (one of the teams in the Office of Innovation and Entrepreneurship). The invention disclosure is a short, electronically submitted document that describes how the invention works, its advantages, and other items required in protecting your idea. It is important to include all contributors or authors, including non-Pitt innovators, and funding sources in the disclosure.
The invention disclosure is an important item because it alerts the Innovation Institute that you have created something and gets Innovation Institute staff started on the process of filing patent application or establishing a copyright, as well as evaluating your invention for commercial viability.
When you submit your invention disclosure to the Innovation Institute, it will be reviewed to determine the commercial merits of the submitted invention disclosures and the University’s ability to protect the intellectual property. If the innovation is determined to be protectable and deemed to have commercial potential, the Innovation Institute will work with you to protect the intellectual property, using patents, copyrights, or research tool designations, as appropriate based on the technology. In general, the University historically has approved for commercialization an estimated 55 percent of all invention disclosures submitted to the Innovation Institute in a given year.
At the University, the process for preparing a patent application starts with the submission of an Invention Disclosure to the Innovation Institute. After submission, an invention disclosure is assigned to a licensing professional who will work alongside the innovator to ensure that all the necessary information has been provided. If it is determined that a patent application is appropriate, the licensing professional and a patent attorney will work closely with the innovator to file the application. A good patent application provides sufficient detail on the innovation and strongly relates this to the potential commercialization of the opportunity. Patent applications are filed and handled by patent attorneys outside of the University who are selected and directed by the Innovation Institute. Patent attorneys work closely with Pitt innovators during the process of securing patent protections for Pitt-owned inventions. Copyrights may be registered with the US Copyright Office.
Submitting an invention disclosure for your innovation is a major accomplishment, but it is only the beginning of the process. Once it is determined that an innovation has commercial potential, there are numerous pathways to move it forward. The Innovation Institute provides education programs, funding, and mentoring to assist you along the way. You can also find additional free resources at the Institute for Entrepreneurial Excellence which also houses the local Small Business Development Center.
Platform technologies and innovations with broad applications may be suited to the formation of a new company created for the sole purpose of advancing a University technology. Entrepreneurs in Residence at the Innovation Institute can help vet company startup potential and identify resources to get them off the ground.
Startup opportunities can be generated by faculty, staff, graduate students, or undergraduate students. There are two primary approaches these innovators can follow to determine if their ideas have merit and can be converted into a successful new company.
An innovation that improves upon an existing product or solution most likely would be pursued as a licensing partnership with an existing company. The Innovation Institute will conduct market research, develop marketing materials, and coordinate with the researcher to attract potential licensees.
The ultimate goal of the University’s technology commercialization endeavor is to find an industry partner or start-up company willing to license your innovations and take them to market. Keep in mind that the University does not sell its intellectual property. Rather, it negotiates a licensing agreement that gives the industry partner, or licensee, the right to use and/or sell your innovation in the marketplace.
Our licensing staff assists the University and a licensee in agreeing to terms and executing the license.
Regardless of the licensee being an existing company or a startup, the process of licensing the technology proceeds along similar lines. A licensing manager at the Innovation Institute will facilitate the process between the University, licensee and innovator(s). In some cases the licensee and innovator(s) are one and the same as may be the case in a licensed startup company. The licensing manager will share the contractual agreement and terms with the licensee and manage the negotiation discussions until an agreement is met.
The Office of Innovation and Entrepreneurship through the Innovation Institute manages the license agreement, connects the licensee to the resources needed to succeed and helps ensure a smooth relationship between the parties.
You can also watch our pre-recorded Introduction to Commercialization Webinar that explores the initial paths to commercialization.