UMass system racking up patents

the university of massachusetts is emerging as a powerhouse research institution, ranking among the world’s elite in turning ideas into patents.

The five-campus UMass system received 57 patents in 2013, ranking it 37th in the world. In 2012, UMass ranked even higher, but received only 54 patents. The University of California was the top patent recipient both years, raking in 399 in 2013. MIT ranked second in 2013 with 281; Harvard had 69.

The annual rankings are compiled by the National Academy of Inventors, using US Patent Office data. The group counted every patent granted in 2013 where the University of Massachusetts is listed as the first assignee. Patents are typically filed when a researcher’s idea has the potential to be commercialized.

Most UMass patents are in the biological and life sciences, and come out of the Worcester-based medical school. The med school is a hub of RNA research. One RNA-related patent, issued to Jeanne B. Lawrence, is entitled “Nucleic acid silencing sequences.” According to Bill Rosenberg, who directs the UMass Office of Commercial Ventures and Intellectual Property, the patent could lead to a new treatment for Down Syndrome.

The research that leads to patents is typically funded by grants. One of the biggest funders of biomedical research is the National Institutes of Health, which granted nearly $159 million to UMass in 2013, or about 6.6 percent of all NIH funding flowing into Massachusetts, which gets a large share of funding overall.

While many patents don’t yield profits for the university system, some do. Dr. Thomas Shea spent decades researching cognitive impairment as the director for the Center for Cellular Neurobiology and Neurodegeneration at UMass Lowell. He filed a patent for a combination of vitamins and supplements that can increase cognitive function in people with neurogenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s.

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The patent was licensed to a Waltham-based startup, which based an over-the-counter “nutraceutical” called Perceptiv on Shea’s technology. Now commercially available, the supplement provides UMass Lowell with its first running royalty from an intellectual property license since Rosenberg’s office was founded.

If a patent does generate a profit, a third of the profit goes to the university’s central fund, a third goes to the inventor, and a third goes to the lab.