WASHINGTON – The University System of Maryland ranked 14th among universities for the number of patents it received last year, 11 spots higher than its rank just a year earlier.
Preliminary numbers from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office show that Maryland got 45 patents, putting campuses here ahead of prestigious schools like Harvard and Duke.
But Maryland still lagged behind other public schools it is often compared with: It had only 10 percent of the patents of the top-ranked University of California system, and the University of Michigan system ranked eighth with 63 patents.
Still, University System Chancellor Brit Kirwan said he was “very happy about the big jump in our ranking” and credited it to progress in technology transfer programs, which turn university research into marketable information and products.
“As you know, it has become a huge priority for us, and I think it both reflects the quality of the faculty that we are recruiting and the emphasis that the institutions are putting on technology transfers,” Kirwan said.
Brian Darmody, assistant vice president of research at the University of Maryland, College Park, said patents are just the first step in the technology transfer process. With a patent, the university owns intellectual property which it can then license to private businesses.
Elaine Young, associate vice provost for research at the University of Maryland Baltimore County, said the research also provides a link to the community.
“The more patents, the more things the university can develop and turn over to the community,” she said.
Officials note that patents issued in the last year reflect research efforts from several years ago, because a patent is usually issued two or three years after an application is filed. Therefore, the jump could be credited to a funding increase between 1999 and 2001, said Jim Poulos, who heads College Park’s technology transfer program.
“Between 1999 and 2001, we were spending more money on patents, but there is a lag time,” he said. “You file applications, they sit and then they issue.”
But university research officials cautioned against judging research programs solely on their number of patents.
“It doesn’t say anything about the value of the patents or what the university has done with the patents,” said Robert Hardy, associate director of the Council for Governmental Relations, a university research group. He said the number of patents alone “may not tell you really much at all.”
Poulos said the patent rankings could just as easily be seen as a measure of university funding. “Give me more money, I’ll get you more patents,” he said.
Hardy and Poulos said a better measure of a university is data collected by the Association of University Technology Managers, because it takes into account factors other than the number of patents issued.
Money is the “single most important factor” in determining the number of patents received, said association President Patricia Harsche Weeks. The association’s annual survey has consistently shown that a university will see one invention proposal for about every $2 million spent on research, she said.
Before ranking universities, Weeks said, the association analyzes funding as well as the number of invention proposals at a university, how many patents come out of those and the way those patents are used.
Because the association lists Maryland campuses individually, rather than as a system, it is difficult to compare data with the patent office rankings.
In 2002, the last year for which association rankings are available, the College Park campus ranked 28th, the professional schools in Baltimore were 33rd and the Baltimore County campus was in the top 130. By contrast, the patent office ranked the Maryland system 25th in 2002.
But university officials were not about to dismiss the No. 14 ranking for 2003.
“For us to be 14, is a great achievement . . . because we are not nearly the size of the University of California system. . .or New York,” said Claude Nash, vice president of research and development at the University of Maryland Biotechnology Institute.
Kirwan said the numbers should be looked at over time, but he is confident the ranking will continue to go up.
“There is definitely a move toward the top,” Kirwan said. “I think that will be a steady trend because of the . . . quality of the faculty, the priority the institutions place on technology transfer and the superb support that we are getting.”
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