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Office Broadens Outreach on Technology Transfer, Licensing

Office of Technology Transfer and Licensing Director Jason Wen (center), speaking with Ferris Professor and Physics Chairman Michael Naughton (left) and Associate Professor of Chemistry Dunwei Wang. (Photo by Lee Pellegrini)

By Ed Hayward | Chronicle Staff

Published: Feb. 19, 2015

Office of Technology Transfer and Licensing Director Jason Wen offers an expansive view of the “inventions” developed by faculty at Boston College.

“An invention can come from any field,” said Wen, who took charge of the office two years ago. “It doesn’t have to be limited to a scientific discovery or a new piece of technology. It can be an idea, a curriculum or a new approach to teaching. I want faculty from every department, school and college to see their potential to develop their own inventions.”

In support of that philosophy, Wen is expanding his outreach to faculty across campus to ensure they are aware of the services the office provides and understand some fundamental steps required to patent, license or commercialize new discoveries.

“People should bring us their ideas so they can be evaluated and protected – that means contacting us before a paper is published, a poster is presented or a talk is given at a conference,” said Wen. “There are some very basic, but very important steps we need to take.”

For faculty who break new ground, OTTL serves as the University’s service center for the protection of intellectual property, technological and scientific evaluation and chief negotiator of licensing and commercialization agreements that can bring royalty payments and take new discoveries to the public.

In his two years on campus, Wen says he has made the office as close to a one-stop shop as possible for services to help faculty advance proprietary discoveries.

That is in no small part related to Wen’s broad range of credentials and experience in the life sciences, business and patent law. A former professor, Wen holds a PhD in molecular biology and an MBA. He’s a licensed patent agent with professional certifications in licensing and technology transfer. That background has allowed Wen to bring much of the office’s work in-house, reducing costs and streamlining services for faculty, he said.

With the addition of licensing associate Jill Edgar, Wen said the office provides timely services such as legal agreements, contracts and support services related to intellectual property licensing.

Vice Provost for Research and Scholarship Thomas Chiles said OTTL is a crucial piece of the University’s strategic plan to expand and enhance faculty research initiatives.

Last year, OTTL finalized 66 agreements, the largest number completed in a single year since the office was created in 2004. The number marked a 32 percent increase above the prior year.

The office evaluates technologies, files and manages patents, markets BC innovations and negotiates agreements to license technology, establish collaborations with industry and facilitate start-ups.

Last year, Wen approached nearly 30 companies as part of a technology marketing effort, inviting some to campus for additional discussions. The companies included GE, Samsung, Pfizer, Novartis, Sanofi, Thermo Fisher Scientific, Abbot Laboratories and Cubist Pharmaceuticals.

The office has negotiated licensing agreements for discoveries from BC labs. Among those agreements was the launch of the start-up EnerLeap Inc., to commercialize a new battery and energy storage technology developed by Associate Professor of Chemistry Dunwei Wang.

Wang said OTTL was extremely helpful throughout the process, helping him take an important step toward seeing one of his lab discoveries advance toward the competitive green energy marketplace.

“It’s pretty exciting to see that we can take this to the next level,” said Wang. “Scientists work in the lab, driven by a vision. Often it’s a blurred vision. When it becomes clearer and you see it become something real, it is very fulfilling.”

Among other successes, Wen pointed to a renewed licensing agreement for the assistive technology EagleEyes, developed more than two decades ago by faculty from the Carroll School of Management, the Computer Science Department and the Campus School. The technology, which allows people with severe physical disabilities to control a computer using eye movement, has been licensed to the Opportunity Foundation of America since 2008.

John R. and Pamela Egan Professor in Computer Science James Gips said OTTL’s work helps to ensure EagleEyes reaches the people who need it most.

“Jason and OTTL have been key in our being able to get the EagleEyes technology into the lives of children with the most severe disabilities and their families,” said Gips. “Jason and his office just concluded negotiating a renewed and revised licensing agreement with the Opportunity Foundation of America so they can develop, manufacture, and distribute EagleEyes systems to families and schools. 

“Without these agreements, EagleEyes would be a curiosity in my lab rather than having a profound positive effect on the lives of children with disabilities and their families throughout the country.”

The Association of University Technology Managers recently featured the agreement as a project that sets an example for intellectual property benefitting society, Wen said – a first for BC.

“We’re thrilled to see AUTM recognize Boston College’s EagleEyes and the Opportunity Foundation of America for the contributions we’re making to helping those truly in need,” said Wen. “It’s a great example of how our inventions can serve our Jesuit mission to be of service to others.”