WPI Inventors Awarded Record Number of Patents

Faculty and student inventors have set a new record for patents awarded during one academic year by collecting 20 U.S. patents since July 2019 for inventions ranging from antifungal agents to battery manufacturing methods.

Todd Keiller, director of WPI’s Office of Technology Commercialization (OTC), says the newest crop of patents cover an exciting mix of technologies—12 have already been licensed to companies for possible development into commercial products.

“We’re on a roll,” Keiller says. “And we’re not just getting the patents, we’re putting them to work, which we hope will lead to revenue for inventors and for WPI.”

Patents are key to securing control of intellectual property developed in the laboratories of WPI. They can produce revenue for the university if they are licensed to companies, and they sometimes form the backbone of new businesses. Previously, the largest number of patents awarded to WPI inventors in one year was 16, in 2018.

In addition, the patents have an impact on the community. Keiller says 19 companies have been created to pursue WPI patented technologies, generating 55 new jobs. Almost all the companies are located in the Worcester area.

Even while the university closed most campus operations because of the global COVID-19 pandemic, technology commercialization activities have continued.

“Remote operations have actually increased our productivity,” he says. “People have gotten used to Zoom and virtual meetings. We can operate this way without meeting face-to-face.”

The path to a patent starts with a “disclosure,” when a faculty member files with the OTC. About half of disclosures are filed by teams that include faculty and students, Keiller says. Another 30 percent are filed by faculty, the remaining 20 percent by students. WPI inventors filed a record 67 disclosures with the OTC during the 2019 fiscal year.

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