Published: Saturday, February 1, 2014 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 29, 2014 at 3:19 p.m.
Richard Melker says he got lucky the first time he attempted to take an invention of his own out of the lab and into the market.
The one-time director of Emergency Services at Shands credits the source of his good fortune to timing: He developed a device he knew other doctors would want soon after the University of Florida launched the Office of Technology Licensing (OTL) in 1985, in response to the passing of a federal law that allowed universities to keep a portion of the profits from sponsored research.
The OTL helped walk him through the process of patenting his product and landing a licensing deal with a company that wanted to develop and sell it. Today, the Melker Emergency Cricothyrotomy Catheter is used by doctors and hospitals around the world when it’s not possible to intubate patients with a traditional endotracheal tube.
“I was fortunate that they picked up my first patent,” Melker says.
Since its founding nearly 30 years ago, the OTL has been central to the local economy, guiding hundreds of discoveries and inventions by UF researchers through the difficult and expensive patenting process, helping match inventors with startup companies and investors, working out licensing agreements and options.
“Anybody who gets into it will realize they don’t have the resources unless they are independently wealthy,” Melker says. “It costs money to hire lawyers, accountants, file patent applications, etc. The patenting game has changed so much in the U.S.”
It’s a mutually beneficial process. The researchers get a cut of the profits, and so does UF.
It wasn’t always like that. Prior to the Bayh-Dole Act of 1980, university faculty conducting federally funded research had to turn over their discoveries and inventions to the federal government. And the U.S. government wasn’t quick to commercialize those inventions.
Prior to Bayh-Dole, the U.S. government had accumulated 28,000 patents, but fewer than 5 percent of those were commercially licensed, according to the U.S. government accounting office.
The Bayh-Dole Act allowed universities to capture and profit from intellectual property spawned in federally funded university research labs, and paved the way for greater commercialization of that intellectual property.