Campus Connection: WARF keeps UW among leaders in cashing in on research

8.30.12 | The Capital Times | Todd Finkelmeyer | Original publication

UW–Madison, thanks to its partnership with the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation, remained among the national leaders in commercializing its academic research during the 2011 fiscal year, according to an annual survey of the Association of University Technology Managers released earlier in the week.

Only one Big Ten Conference institution had more licensing income than UW–Madison’s $57.7 million, with Northwestern University bringing in a whopping $191.5 million — tops among all colleges and universities.

The entire University of California System -- which has 10 campuses, including UC-Berkeley, UCLA and UC-San Diego -- ranked second on the list with $182 million in license income, while Columbia University ($146.3 million), New York University ($142.2 million) and Princeton University ($115.2 million) also topped the $100 million mark.

In addition to Northwestern and UW–Madison, which ranked 10th on the list, other Big Ten Conference institutions to crack the top 25 include: University of Illinois (Urbana and Chicago), No. 19, $17.4 million; University of Nebraska, No. 20, $16.8 million; and University of Michigan, No. 22, $15.6 million. (For more figures, check out this sortable table produced by the Chronicle of Higher Education that provides additional details about institutions’ licensing revenue.)

“The list changes year-to-year, but the thing about WARF is we have remained consistently strong because UW–Madison is a world class university,” says Carl Gulbrandsen, the managing director of WARF. “We wouldn’t be able to do any of this without a great university.”

Since its founding in 1925, WARF has helped researchers at UW–Madison patent their discoveries and license their technologies to companies across the globe. WARF then distributes the money earned from commercial licenses to UW–Madison (more than $45 million per year), the inventors and their departments.

Indeed, only two institutions issued more U.S. patents than the 154 by UW–Madison/WARF, according to the survey. The University of California System (343) and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (174) issued more, while the University of Texas System also put out 154.

One of the biggest money-makers in WARF’s portfolio is an active form of vitamin D that’s used for kidney failure and licensed to Abbott Laboratories. But that patent, which Gulbrandsen says has brought in “hundreds of millions of dollars” over the past 15 years, expires at the end of 2013. “So that licensing revenue will fall away, but we have others in the pipeline and believe we’ll continue to do well.”

If there is one area in which UW–Madison and WARF need to do a better job, however, it’s in the number of new start-ups it got going in fiscal year 2011, with four. Fourteen institutions had at least 10 new startups.

“Growing those start-ups is something we’re working on because it’s becoming more and more important,” says Gulbrandsen. “But it’s hard here in Madison because we don’t have a lot of venture dollars and we don’t have a lot of serial entrepreneurs to start companies, so it’s something we continually try to work on.”

The WARF website notes that it holds equity in 37 UW–Madison spin-off companies.

In all, this Chronicle article notes that universities and their inventors earned more than $1.8 billion from commercializing their academic research in the 2011 fiscal year. The responses of 157 universities to the annual survey indicated that overall revenue figures are about the same as in the 2010 fiscal year.