Penn State to auction off its slow-to-sell discoveries

A university campus is known for breeding new and innovative ideas that can change the world, but some of those ideas never get off the shelf.

Pennsylvania State University is about to try and cash in on those yet-to-be-fully hatched ideas in a new way - the auction block.

The university announced on Tuesday that it would conduct an online auction for licenses to about 70 engineering patents in areas such as acoustics, fuel cells and sensors.

The auction for intellectual property is the first of its kind on Penn State’s campus and Ron Huss, the university’s associate vice president for research and technology transfer, said he believes it’s the first in the nation to be conducted directly by a university. If successful, the university would like to do more in other areas, including biotechnology, chemistry materials, information services and molecular biology.

“Winning bidders in this first auction will obtain licensing rights to patents derived from faculty research in the college of engineering,” the university said in a news release on its web site.

University officials expect to fetch about $5,000 per idea at a minumum. Many of Penn State’s patents already have been marketed by the tech transfer office. The ones going to auction have not been picked up. Granted, they don’t sound all that alluring to the layman: “Method and apparatus for collecting overspray.” “Smart material motor with mechanical diodes.” “Actively reconfigurable pixelized antenna systems.”

But Don Mothersbaugh, senior technical specialist for the office of technology management, said the patents could be put to good use by the right company. 

"The number one goal is to try to get the technology out into the hands of people who can actually use it," he said, noting that the patents have been on the shelf for seven to 15 years.

Any money rasied will cover costs of the patent process and the rest split between the inventor, the university's research foundation and the inventor's administrative office, Mothersbaugh said.

The auction period will run from March 31 through April 11.

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