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University of Pittsburgh rides medical research to set U.S. patent record

| Tuesday, June 6, 2017, 9:51 a.m.
University of Pittsburgh's Cathedral of Learning
University of Pittsburgh's Cathedral of Learning

The University of Pittsburgh has set a new record for the number of patents the government has issued to it in a year, and now ranks in the top third of universities issued United States patents, according to a Tuesday news release.

The U.S. Patent and Trademark office issued 93 patents to Pitt faculty and students in the last 11 months, surpassing the previous record of 80 patents set in fiscal year 2016, spokesman Mike Yeomans said.

The university's growth in patents, most of which register new disease treatments, medical devices or processes used in developing new treatments, has pushed it up in a ranking of universities around the world seeking U.S. patents, according to the National Academy of Inventors and the Intellectual Property Owners Association.

The organizations each year rank universities by the number of U.S. patents issued. For 2016, Pitt tied the University of Maryland to rank 27th, up from 35th a year earlier, the organizations announced Tuesday. Carnegie Mellon University tied the University of Missouri for 83rd.

The organizations counted patents issued in calendar year 2016; Pitt's internal record is for fiscal year 2017, which ends at the end of June.

“I think it's a metric of the innovative and entrepreneurial spirit of our faculty,” Marc Malandro, founding director of Pitt's Innovation Institute, said of the record. The institute was founded in 2013 to try to steer more of the university's research to broad commercial applications.

The Innovation Institute seeks licensing agreements for patents to develop them commercially, Malandro said. Some make money, while others don't. Malandro said the university develops projects such as advanced wheelchairs to improve lives of disabled people alongside its more financially promising work on things like blockbuster drugs.

“Since ours is a mission-driven organization, if it's going to get out there and help people and someone is willing to invest in it, we're going to license it,” he said.

Because of Pitt's relationship with UPMC, the majority of its patents are in the life sciences field, Malandro said. Among the patents issued to Pitt in the last year were a new cancer immunotherapy treatment that a Massachusetts-based company licensed and an eye-disease treatment licensed by local startup Ocugenix, Yeomans said.

The Innovation Institute and its predecessor offices generated more than $100 million through more than 1,000 licenses over the last 10 years, Malandro has said.

The government typically issues patents three to five years after an application, he said, while life sciences developments often take 10 years or more to reach commercial markets.

Wes Venteicher is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-380-5676, wventeicher@tribweb.com or via Twitter @wesventeicher.

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