January 20, 2011 — Thirty-two U.S. patents were awarded to the University of Virginia Patent Foundation in 2010, marking a new record for University inventors.
The new U.Va. patents cover tools and techniques for better medical imaging, for the detection of very small amounts of lead in drinking water, for improved surgical training and more.
The Patent Foundation routinely supports University faculty, staff and students by pursuing patent protection for their discoveries, filing approximately 50 U.S. patent applications each year. Patent protection is often necessary to commercialize a discovery with the support of an industry partner.
In a process similar to submitting a paper to an academic journal, patent applications are rigorously reviewed by examiners at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to ensure that the subject of the application is novel, non-obvious and useful, among other criteria. This process often takes place over the course of several years, which has contributed to a significant backlog – more than 200 patent applications covering U.Va. technologies are currently pending.
"While patent volume is just one of many ways to measure inventive activity, to actually be awarded an issued patent is no small victory," said Miette H. Michie, interim executive director and CEO of the U.Va. Patent Foundation. "When our patents issue, it means University of Virginia inventors are continually getting it right; they are developing truly innovative devices, methods and materials that will be useful in fighting disease and in helping to solve the world's problems."
One newly patented invention can detect the presence and amount of lead, a harmful environmental pollutant, in aqueous solutions such as drinking water and industrial wastewater. Developed by U.Va. chemists James N. Demas and Wenying Xu, the method involves chemically isolating dissolved lead to form luminescent clusters, which analysts can use to measure lead concentration in the liquid.
The researchers' innovative method could one day replace the expensive and time-consuming lead-detection techniques currently being used to analyze aqueous solutions.
"This luminescence-based invention will supply a simple, inexpensive and rapid method for measuring this serious environmental pollutant," said Demas, a professor of chemistry in U.Va.'s College of Arts & Sciences.
This discovery, patented in July, is available for licensing by the Patent Foundation.
For a complete listing of the U.S. patents issued on U.Va. discoveries in 2010, see www.uvapf.org/patents10.
Established in 1977, the U.Va. Patent Foundation is a national leader in technology transfer. The Patent Foundation has put more than 600 of the University's early-stage research discoveries on the path to commercialization through effective partnerships with industry. A non-profit organization dedicated to serving U.Va. researchers, the Patent Foundation has distributed more than $40 million in revenue to the University and more than $21 million to U.Va. inventors since its inception.