A budding partnership between Miami University and the Wright Brothers Institute is bringing opportunities and curriculum changes to Miami’s Institute for Entrepreneurship, starting this semester.

Students and faculty are working with the Wright Brothers Institute to speed up the process of assessing and commercializing the technology contained within patents. The Wright Brothers Institute acts as an intermediary between the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and universities, businesses and communities.

Miami’s partnership with the institute gives the university access to a portfolio of around 1,000 AFRL patents for review, some of which have gone unexamined for up to 20 years. By working with Miami, the institute gets access to state resources related to commercialization technology uniquely available to universities.

The institute saw an opportunity to expand their collaborations into new territory with Miami.

“We believe more potential partners should be leveraging AFRL technology to pursue many commercial and groundbreaking innovation opportunities without necessarily viewing AFRL as the only potential customer,” said Jim Heitner, director of technology commercialization and transfer at the Wright Brothers Institute.

A capstone class has been added to Miami’s entrepreneurship curriculum this semester. Students will put the patents through a “funnel,” meaning they will evaluate the patents for their possible use and potential marketability.  Afterwards, they will categorize them into small high-priority groups for further research.

The process began this week.

This semester the class is focused on the funnel, but beginning next fall students may go one step further with the top patents. The goal is to develop business plans for company start-ups or create marketing strategies to find businesses that want to license the AFRL patents.

One of the ultimate goals of the project is to find ten “alignments,” companies, student groups or faculty researchers that are interested in developing the high-priority patents.

“Once we get through this first step, we’ll be matching faculty research interests with some of the patents…which could turn into undergraduate research projects, graduate research projects and those kinds of things,” said James Oris, Associate Provost for Research and Scholarship at Miami.

Within the partnership, he acts as chief research officer for the university.

“I suspect that by the middle of this semester we’ll be able to start matching groups of patent areas with different departments on campus,” Oris said.

The patents contain technology with a wide variety of potential uses in fields including medicine, military science, energy and power, optics, bio science and even aerospace.

This diversity opens up new venues for faculty researchers in these areas, so that they may be able to open up their own collaborations with the Air Force Research Lab in the future.

This partnership may even eventually lead to getting some of the same technologies used by the Department of Defense adapted for public use, Oris said.

“This a really cool potential example of a university and a federal lab working together in a commercialization area,” Heitner said. “I like that it’s broad in the direction that it could go. It has the potential to utilize a lot of Miami’s resources.”

The Wright Brothers Institute has similar relationships with other universities, such as the University of Dayton, Wright State University and Purdue University, who collaborate on research projects,  outreach or commercialization projects.

We’re less investing in a focused program than we are tapping into ongoing capabilities and initiatives,” Heitner said of the collaborations with other schools.

At Miami, “it’s much more of a program-building partnership.” This goes beyond merely sharing resources.

“This allows students to take a really deep dive into real-world problems and evaluate marketing and business plans for patents that are out there,” Oris said. “So if students are interested in going into patent law or becoming patent examiners, if they want to come up with creative ideas for business startups, this adds a whole new dimension to the entrepreneurship activities.”

The current agreement between Miami and the Wright Brothers Institute is an 18 month contract that lasts through the entire following academic year. The continuation of the partnership depends on the results from the next three semesters.

“If we have success, then maybe there’s more, but right now the project goes through the end of June of 2019,” Oris said. “We’re hoping it gets to continue.”