Rhode Island Science and Technology Advisory Council (STAC)

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URI Ramps Up Efforts at Commercialization and New Company Creation

Published on February 21, 2013

URI researchers were recognized by the URI Research Foundation for their intellectual property contributions at the University's recent inaugural Intellectual Property Awards Recognition Ceremony. The URI Research Foundation is a partner with URI to commercialize inventions and innovations from faculty, staff and students.   In 2011 and 2012, faculty members launched three companies based on their URI inventions and received a record 22 U.S. patents, compared to 25 patents for the prior five years. In addition, faculty received two U.S. trademarks and filed 46 U.S. intellectual property applications.

URI vice president for research Peter Alfonso, Professor Qing Yang, President David Dooley, Professor Patricia Burbank, Professor Walt Besio, and Jim Petell, associate vice president for intellectual property.

"You will be amazed at the number and the diversity of innovations that the University produced in 2011 and 2012," said Jim Petell, the University's associate vice president for intellectual property management and commercialization. "In just the last two years there were 101 faculty, staff and students who created intellectual property that was filed, issued or registered. These URI creators have worked with 23 external co-creators, including federal agencies, companies and other academic institutions."

Peter Alfonso, vice president for research and economic development, opened the ceremony by noting that URI has experienced a 40 percent increase in research funding over the last six years, resulting in an average of $100 million in research grants during the last three years. The increased support for the research enterprise at URI has resulted in increased research and provided a boost to commercialization and economic development efforts. The URI Research Foundation, in partnership with URI, has initiated a new translational focus with company partners that is bringing in new revenue to develop products from URI innovations.

During the ceremony, URI President David M. Dooley recognized the efforts of the faculty who formed three companies, Burbank Industries LLC, CREmedical Corp., and VeloBit, Inc., during 2011 and 2012.

Burbank Industries was founded by Nursing Professor Patricia Burbank and her son to commercialize a small device they call the AAGILE that encourages people to exercise. The AAGILE is worn at the waist to monitor and analyze an individual's physical activity and provides oral messages encouraging them to exercise at set times and during periods of inactivity.

Burbank said her Aunt Ruth inspired the invention. Her aunt lives alone, and Burbank wanted a way to remind her that she is loved. "I thought, wouldn't it be nice if I sent messages reminding her to exercise?" Burbank said.

With this idea, Burbank partnered with engineering Professor Ying Sun, who designed the device in his engineering lab. In collaboration with the URI Research Foundation, Burbank Industries is seeking funding to bring its prototype to the marketplace.

Engineering Professor Walt Besio launched medical device company CREmedical Corp. The company is refining development of a new electrode system that dramatically increases the resolution and signal over conventional electrode devices. The electrodes monitor brainwave activity and can be used to detect life threatening events and potentially stop acute seizures.  In 2010 Besio received a STAC Colloborative Research grant to develop this technology and CREmedical just received a Small Business Innovation Research grant from the National Science Foundation to help commercialize the technology.

Engineering Professor Qing Yang formed a company to commercialize several of his patents. Founded by Yang and business partner Duncan McCallum, VeloBit, Inc. is developing new low-cost software to improve electronic storage. Yang said the market for such technology has boomed in recent years as interest in cloud computing has soared. The company's technology is already in use at 370 installations across five continents. Its success has helped the company raise more than $5 million in venture capital and hire 15 people.

The University plans to make the Intellectual Property Awards Recognition Ceremony an annual event and anticipates its research will leverage even more funding and corporate formations.

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