Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, has 180 research centers and institutes and the support to back them up -- the school garnered $391 million in grants and contracts in fiscal 2009 and has received at least $22.4 million in stimulus funding so far.
But even so, school researchers still have to work hard to stay in the scientific game.
"Like almost all research universities, we license our technology, and we're really looking for ways to get it into the marketplace," said Michael Pazzani, vice president of research and graduate and professional education.
When Rutgers sells gadgets and inventions to corporate customers, the school gets royalties, which means it's a win-win for both parties. Pazzani and his peers package a piece of technology in the form of a patent, a set of rights granting the school and inventor ownership of the technology or idea, which others have to pay to use.
"We keep descriptions of our technology on our own Web site, then we mail those descriptions to corporations that we think are potentially interested," he said.
But the folks at Rutgers know it's smart to diversify their marketing outreach methods. They've put about 400 of their patents on the New Jersey Patent Bank, a Web portal that links interested buyers to a database of patents. Schools like Rutgers and companies can use the bank as another way to sell their science to customers who need technology to help them solve a problem or create a product.
"One of the hopes of the patent bank is that if there's a large collection of patents, someone will find two or three patents that together solve their problem," Pazzani said, "where each university or company marketing them separately might not have that sort of success."
If users want to shop for an idea in the patent base, they can visit the site and search for options. The search page has dropdown menus and input fields allowing users to enter information -- including keywords, patent class numbers, patent holder names and date range parameters -- to help specify what they want.
And shoppers might want to have some idea of what they're looking for -- the selection is pretty specific. A browser who selects "All Patents" and clicks the "Submit Query" button could see a list of patents with names like "Biomimetic controller for a multi-finger prosthesis" or "System and method for noninvasive detection of arterial stenosis." One Rutgers patent, titled "Method of recycling post-consumer plastic waste," offers a way to recycle plastic waste that creates a moldable material in the process.
The inventors have created a marketplace and also an avenue for the academic and business communities to communicate.
"We thought that the patent bank would be the central catalyst to having business and universities speak with one another," said Jerry Zaro, chief of the Governor's Office of Economic Growth (OEG).
And when he says "we," he means the forces in state government who played a part in the bank's creation. If the people of New Jersey want to know what departments to thank for this nifty new portal, they need look no further than the OEG, the New Jersey's Office of Information Technology, the Commission on Higher Education and the Commission on Science and Technology.
"For obvious reasons, IT was the brains behind the programming and the layout and the back end of it. The other departments, we sort of originated the concept of starting this off with using patents as the criteria," said Peter Reczek, the Commission on Science and Technology's executive director.
The OEG spearheaded the patent bank's development, which according to Gary Langfelder, business strategist for the Office of Information Technology, took roughly
six months to complete, from summer 2009 to the fall, following a research and concept creation period that ran through the spring.
"For a few months, we did have to talk to our partners in the other agencies, and we did some focus groups with the business community as well as the universities," Langfelder said.
The Higher Education and Science and Technology commissions helped bring business and academia to the patent bank and educate them about the project's value. According to Reczek, his office's task is to stimulate the commercialization of technologies invented in New Jersey and move those around as economic drivers in the marketplace.
"When we started putting this thing together, what we wanted to do was find a way to do two things: One was to create an entrepreneurial culture in New Jersey, and the second one was to make information available to the general public," Reczek said.
Local colleges and universities comprised a plentiful field of technologies the government could use to populate the patent bank with initially.
"We met with representatives from some of the larger colleges and universities who we felt had a larger bank of their own patents, and once we had met with them, everybody really was on board with it," said Jennifer Monaghan, director of communications for the OEG. "They were willing and really excited to give us all their patents, and we worked very seamlessly with them."
The OEG runs the patent bank, and Monaghan is the point-person for a lot of outside interaction and communication to its site.
"When someone logs on and they want to register and become a user and upload a patent, they essentially go through the Web site, and when they hit 'submit,' I get an e-mail saying that they've submitted a patent," she said. "It's really quite simple. I get the e-mail, I make sure that it's a registered patent, and it gets posted right away."
The patent bank was developed internally, which kept the cost low.
"I think that if you brought Pricewaterhouse in here, you couldn't come up with $35,000 or $50,000 that could be identified with this project. It was really a low-budget, low-cost, high-quality result, and that is what we're really pleased about," Zaro said.
There are no plans to modify the patent bank currently, but the government would like to increase the number of patents it contains. Zaro said there were about 466 registered patents as of Nov. 23, 2009, but he'd like to see more so the bank could be a more attractive industry supermarket.
"We have a constant running total that we can tap into at any time and keep tabs on how many patents have been registered. I'm looking to see this in the tens of thousands," he said.
New Jersey issued a press release about the patent bank's debut on Sep. 25, 2009, and Zaro thinks it's off to a strong start. He's hopeful that more people will learn of the bank's existence and submit more patents as time goes on.
"We expect the number of registered patents to continue to grow on an accelerating basis, and we hope at some time that it becomes used as commonly as a library reference," he said.