Getting down to business

Enlightened Diagnostics™ (EnDx™) from left to right: Gaylene Anderson, advisor; Colin O’Toole, MA ’15; Scott Manwaring, MBA ’15; Chris Cali, MS ’15; Megan Usovsky, MS ’15; and Victoria Zellmer, PhD ’17

Enlightened Diagnostics™ (EnDx™) from left to right: Gaylene Anderson, advisor; Colin O’Toole, MA ’15; Scott Manwaring, MBA ’15; Chris Cali, MS ’15; Megan Usovsky, MS ’15; and Victoria Zellmer, PhD ’17

A post from our student blogger Megan

When we think about patents we normally don’t think about business. In reality, patents go hand-in-hand with business. Why do people seek patent protection in the first place? Ultimately, patents place a monopoly on a device, machine, manufacture, or method, and insure that others do not make or use the patented item for a specified period of time. Patenting, as you can see, means the difference between having the ability to create a business based around specified items or not.

At Notre Dame I have had the distinct honor of being part of a business team that competes at competitions around the country. This experience has been incredible to say the least. My capstone project for the MSPL has been intricately woven into a business venture. For the past eight months, Chris Cali, ESTEEM masters 2015 candidate; Victoria Zellmer, PhD in biochemistry 2017 candidate; Scott Manwaring, MBA 2015 candidate; Colin O’Toole, Masters of Accounting 2015 candidate, and myself, have met outside school hours to craft a business plan and presentation to sell our inventors’ technology to potential investors. The five of us have learned that building a business from scratch takes a lot of time and effort: sweat equity needs to be poured into creating a business formula that will work, as well as a healthy dose of personal time and attention.

When we first met on a balmy sunny day in August, our business team was all smiles; we had no idea the commitment we were about to engage. With the help of our steadfast business team advisor, Gaylene Anderson, we started to meet at least once every week. The process was slow at first but as we started to decipher the makeup of our technology and how it worked, we were able to begin drafting a rough copy of our business plan over first semester break. The original plan was the culmination of each team member’s contribution: our technology entrepreneur drafted the majority of the business plan, our biochemist added her expertise on the science, our engineer/MBA added his knowledge of the technology as applied to business, the accountant added his numbers throughout spreadsheets, and I added sections devoted to our intellectual property. We entered several competitions ranging from the McCloskey business plan competition here at Notre Dame, to national competitions in Texas and California.

Our first competition took place at the University of Louisville in Kentucky at the Cardinal Challenge on Valentine’s Day. We didn’t know what to expect but we looked dapper in our company color—royal blue—which also paid deference to the University of Notre Dame. With some nerves and a little trepidation, we made it through a fifteen minute presentation. There were four judges that provided feedback after we presented. Some of the feedback was harsh—since we didn’t know what to expect we were thrown off by some of the criticism. We left the first round with some worry that we would not make the final round; however, we also left with a huge sense of accomplishment.

The top four teams were announced during lunch and we were called last. We made it, though! All the hard work had gotten us to at least a spot in the top four. We practiced for another couple hours and then it was show time again. We pitched our idea to a second set of tough judges as well as a larger audience.

I can still remember the feeling I had when the third and fourth runner-ups were announced: complete and utter happiness! Our company name was called for second-place. This was a respectable showing, but the entire team agreed that we were hooked on the spirit of the competition, our technology, and eventually, we set our minds to win it all going forward to other competitions.

Business is integrally tied to patents, and quite possibly to everything we do in life. As the old saying goes, “nothing in life is free.” This means you can capitalize on almost everything out there. But business is more than just making money. It is about selling something that is going to help someone. Our technology is an imaging platform that enhances cancer diagnostics. And I get to be part of this—simply amazing. Now, let’s get down to business, and I’ll update you on our progress as we compete for first place at further business competitions.

AUTM Days 2 and 3

On Wednesday I attended a very interesting session: “Not the Usual Suspects: Non-traditional IP from Non-traditional Sources.” The panel presenters from the OTT from the University of Illinois shared how they realized one day that they were only interacting with a very small part of their campus. To kick start communication with the rest of the campus, they held an open meeting with the deans of the humanities and social science departments to discuss what the OTT does and what types of resources they could offer.

They have since partnered with foreign language department, industrial design, music, sociology, psychology and architecture. The OTT has made the commitment to the entire campus to listen and learn, and to adapt existing processes and tools (within reason) in order to meet non-traditional IP needs.

One presenter from a consulting company mentioned something important to think about when opening up OTT resources to departments other than STEM – impact is not always proportional to dollars. These projects are still important.

The consultant also talked about licensing opportunities for university collections of art, music, artifacts, antique maps, and books. These licensing agreements are often very different from tech agreements in that they are limited term, payout minimum royalties in advance and often specify how the work is to be used (replicated on t-shirts, used as a logo for software, etc.). This type of licensing protects the university’s investment in the collection.

Today on the closing day of the conference, I attended a session which was essentially an open discussion about faculty expectations of tech transfer offices. Many topics were brought up in this session both from faculty representatives and OTT representatives such as faculty motivation for disclosing their IP (money, altruism), the need for consistent clear expectations and communication from both parties, and showing the value of what the OTT can bring to the inventor.

One university representative talked about having a faculty liaison act as a bridge between OTT and the inventor. When OTT has to say no to a technology or invention, the inventor might doubt that the OTT office has done its due diligence, but if a colleague explains why it can’t move forward, they are often more accepting of the news.

One panel presenter who has been on both the university and the corporate side of IP, suggested that the OTT be more involved with the brainstorming around how ideas and technology could be used. He gave the example of a chemist who is very interested in how certain molecules are bonding, but is unsure of how this would be applicable commercially. The OTT staff could bring an outside perspective on ways the technology could be used.

Another suggestion from the audience is using a third-party patentability and licensing analyst. This negates any perception of the tech transfer office being biased toward individual faculty or departments.




Office of Tech Transfer a Valuable Resource for Students

A post from our student blogger Sarah Goodman

An important resource to the students in the MSPL program at the University of Notre Dame is the Office of Technology Transfer (OTT). This office is available to assist university faculty, research staff, and students in bringing new technologies to commercialization. The OTT has the resources to patent, market, and license products of university research. This office secures legal protection in the form of patents for technologies invented at Notre Dame and markets the technologies to companies suited to develop the inventions. When appropriate companies are identified, the OTT is capable of negotiating licensing agreements and distributing the proceeds in accordance with the University’s intellectual property policies. The MSPL program prepares us for job opportunities in the field of academic technology transfer as a possible career option.

I am a current student employee in the OTT. My job duties include researching current Notre Dame technologies and completing Patentability and Marketability Reports. To investigate the patentability of an invention, I search patent and literature databases to identify publications that could prevent a patent from issuing on the technology.  To investigate the marketability of an invention, I complete market research to see if anything similar is commercially available, investigate the target customers, and determine whether or not the technology has commercial value.

The other student employee at the OTT is Vini Melo, a current student in the graduate ESTEEM program. He also evaluates inventions and is currently coordinating databases that will be used to market technologies invented at Notre Dame.

The Office of Technology Transfer is a valuable asset on campus and will aid in the success of the MSPL program. The University’s Intellectual Property Policy and information concerning the Office of Technology Transfer is available online at