The COVID-19 pandemic did not stem the surge of patents at research universities in Florida. The top four institutions for 2020 patent grants were:

  • University of Florida: 154
  • University of South Florida: 130
  • Florida International University: 60
  • University of Central Florida: 52
2020 Patent Grants to Florida Research Universities
2020 Patent Grants to Florida Research Universities

Data was obtained by searching the United States Patent & Trademark Office advanced search interface for the calendar year of grant and the assignee of the patent.

ISD/$/$/2020 and AN/"University of Central Florida"

A remarkable uptick in patent output is seen by Florida International University (FIU). FIU averaged 2.6 patent grants from 2011 through 2015. That increased to an average of 49.4 patents grants in the following five years. Relative increases in activity were also observed for Florida A&M University and the University of North Florida.

Research Money Flowing into Florida

Universities in Florida receive substantial grant funding. This funding, in turn, incentivizes patent filings. During the 2020 fiscal year, the University of Florida reported researching funding of $900.7 million*. The University of South Florida reported $525.4 million in research funding for 2019*. The University of Central Florida increased research funding 40 percent since 2016 with $204.5 million for 2020*. Florida State University reported $250.1 million for the 2020 fiscal year*. In similar fashion, Florida International University reported $197 million in research awards for 2020*. Florida A&M received $60.8 million in grant awards*.

Bar graph of research funding of Florida Universities in 2020.
Florida University Research Funding (FY2019 for USF)

Monetizing Research Grant Awards

Universities taking in federal research grants follow a standard patent rights clause. This rule is set forth in 37 CFR 401.14(a). The clause permits universities to obtain title to inventions and license the technology out to private enterprise. To enumerate, universities must meet a few requirements:

  • Grant the U.S. government a license to use the invention;
  • File a patent application;
  • Notify the government if it abandons the patent application;
  • Include a “government” notice in the patent application;
  • Report on patent filings and inventions;
  • Exclusive licensees to prioritize use, sale and manufacture in the United States; and
  • The government can “march in” and take over in certain circumstances.

Unquestionably, the intent of the law is simple. Private industry is better at commercializing technology than the government. In particular, for university researchers looking to improve the world, the best opportunity to see that happen is through the patent system. Without doubt, translating technology from research to consumers is expensive and risky. Therefore, without the protection of the patent system, fewer businesses are willing to develop the invention.

More than Patent Numbers

Patent grants are easy to quantify. However, the true metric of success is startup and licensing revenue from the patented inventions. MIT has traditionally been a leader in this area. It generated $34.8 million in 2019 alone from IP licensing*. In Florida, like elsewhere, a few key inventions produce the vast majority of licensing revenue.

For example, the University of South Florida produced $17.4 million in licensing revenue in 2010 for a drug candidate licensed to biopharmaceutical firm Targacept*. Taxol, the cancer-therapy drug developed at FSU earned the university $29.6 million in 1997 from Bristol-Meyer Squibb. University of Florida reported a whopping $281 million total take of royalties from its stake in Gatorade*. Accordingly, every university is looking for the next blockbuster technology. Given that, faculty researchers are highly encouraged to share their inventions and discoveries with technology transfer offices.

Conclusion

Florida research universities continue a decade-long surge in patent grants. In fact, we reported that by some metrics, Florida universities outperform North Carolina’s Research Triangle. This is a natural consequence of increased grant funding and the preeminence accorded to research institutions. However, the true measure of success is the licensing of patented technology. What’s more, patenting university inventions is akin to picking stocks…there is some expertise and a lot of luck. Certainly every university, inside and out of Florida, wants the next billion-dollar technology coming out of its laboratories.

Author note: Smith & Hopen actively represents a number of the university institutions referenced above.

Anton Hopen

U.S. Patent Attorney with smithhopen.com.