Innovations from the field to the operating room helped propel the University of Nebraska System to its best-ever ranking among the world’s top academic institutions for earning U.S. patents.
A recently released 2021 report from the National Academy of Inventors and Intellectual Property Owners Association lists the NU System tied at No. 64, with 43 patents. The new ranking is the university’s fifth straight year on the list and a climb from No. 77 in the 2020 ranking.
The ranking includes patents granted last year by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to the NU System’s technology transfer offices – Nutech Ventures at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and UNeMed Corp. at the University of Nebraska Medical Center and University of Nebraska at Omaha.
"To be recognized among so many other leading universities is further confirmation of the creativity and innovation of the University of Nebraska’s faculty," said NU System President Ted Carter. "Their work is changing lives each and every day, while growing the workforce and economy in Nebraska and beyond. I am so proud of our faculty for making this level of success possible."
Said UNL Chancellor Ronnie Green: "Our university’s commitment to collaboration in pursuit of cutting-edge research helps power our success in being among the best at converting innovative ideas into real-world applications. This ranking is a reflection of our combined ingenuity and entrepreneurship at work, strengthening our economy and improving lives in Nebraska and around the globe."
"UNMC’s mission is to create a healthier future for our state, our country and our world," said UNMC Chancellor Jeffrey P. Gold, M.D. "Our researchers’ and clinicians’ efforts are key in achieving that goal. This rapidly growing continuum of science and clinical care is a critical part of the economic development part of our mission. This ranking is an indication of their dedication, as well as that of their colleagues and collaborators through the University of Nebraska, and we take pride in their successes."
NU’s technology transfer offices use patents as one way to protect the innovations of faculty, staff and students. Patents play a crucial role in attracting the interest and support of corporate partners that fund additional development and commercialization – helping to create jobs, products and tax revenue for Nebraska’s economy.
The University of Nebraska’s 2021 report includes patents related to a miniaturized surgical robot, an unmanned aerial drone for fire suppression and ignition, innovations in treatment and prevention of HIV, and a self-pacing treadmill.
UNL’s Shane Farritor, professor of engineering, led a team on four surgical robotics patents. The patents include a quick-coupler to attach tools, as well as a compact, multi-function attachment that rotates and offers options for cauterizing and cutting.
Farritor is co-founder of Virtual Incision, a startup company based at Nebraska Innovation Campus. For nearly 20 years, he and colleagues have been developing the surgical robot known as MIRA, short for “miniaturized in vivo robotic assistant.” The company has received more than $100 million in venture capital investment since its founding in 2006.
The project recently received $100,000 from NASA to prepare the surgical robot for a 2024 test aboard the International Space Station.
UNMC inventors Howard Gendelman, M.D., and Benson Edagwa, Ph.D., developed three patents related to their platform technology for ultra-long acting therapies for HIV. Early testing shows the technology has potential to transform HIV treatments into a single dose administered only once per year, compared to current treatment regimens that often involve a strict schedule of daily doses.
A new startup, Exavir, was built around the technology, and recently secured $4 million from investors.
NU’s patent list also includes an unmanned aerial vehicle that can be used for fire suppression and ignition. The UAV was developed by Drone Amplified, a startup led by Carrick Detweiler, professor of computing at UNL. It delivers ping-pong ball-sized chemical spheres that, when dropped, ignite and start small fires that burn vegetation and starve incoming wildfires of potential fuel. The drone system has been used to fight fires in Arizona, Alaska and other sites around the country. It was named as one of the Top 12 Made in America inventions in 2017.
A key patent out of the University of Nebraska at Omaha is a self-pacing treadmill that is poised to disrupt the fitness industry. The device responds to a runner’s pace with no other inputs, decreasing speed as the runner slows from a jog to a walk or increasing speed as a user begins to run. The self-pacing treadmill was licensed to Impower Health, a startup company.
"In the biomedical space, patents are an essential element because development often requires millions or billions of dollars before the product can be sold and have an impact on healthcare," said UNeMed CEO and president Michael Dixon. "We’re incredibly proud to see Nebraska climbing the ranks on this list because it’s a reflection of all our efforts to bring Nebraska innovations to the people who need them most."
"We are all excited for our Husker inventors and the university again being ranked among the world’s best at earning U.S. patents," said Brad Roth, president and director of NUtech Ventures. "This exemplifies the innovative work by our faculty, staff and students who are committed to doing cutting-edge research, solving real-world problems and commercializing technology that improves the lives of people worldwide."