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Patents benefit University; researchers earn royalties

While many students see the University as only a teaching institution, research from Princeton professors has many far-reaching and even profitable effects on developing technologies worldwide.

According to a report by the Association of University Technology Managers that surveyed research institutions nationwide, Princeton researchers were issued 16 patents in fiscal 1997. These include not only "tangible research properties" – technologies that can be physically distributed – but also patented research processes, explained associate director of technology transfer John Ritter.


Once a patent for a product or process has been granted to a researcher, royalties from the sale and distribution are paid annually to Princeton, Ritter said. According to the AUTM report, royalties generated from Princeton-acquired patents totalled $607,000 in fiscal 1996.


"Of this (royalty income), the inventor is paid 50 percent of the first $100,000, 40 percent of the next $400,000 and 30 percent of any amount over $500,000," Ritter said. The remainder of this income goes to the University budget after the deduction of filing expenses, headded.

Ritter's position in the Office of Research and Project Administration entails working year-round to follow each new idea through the complicated patent process.

"We're always working on something over here," he said.

This process begins with the preliminary filing of a "Disclosure of Invention" that describes the invention and the manner in which it was conceived, Ritter explained. The disclosure is then evaluated by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to see if it meets the three criteria for receiving a patent.

According to the "Guide to Intellectual Property at Princeton University," to be patentable, an invention must be new, useful and non-obvious.


Last year there was a record number of 95 disclosures filed by the University, "a steady increase over the past few years," Ritter said. "University research is definitely becoming fruitful," he added.

Flat panel display

One of the most recently patented technologies involved work with Universal Display Corporation, a developer of flat panel display technology. Princeton researchers in the electrical engineering department, along with others from the University of Southern California and Hughes Electronics, have developed what is known as a High Resolution Organic Light Emitting Device, which is expected to revolutionize the electronics industry.

"This is another step toward our ultimate goals, which should enable such future applications as high-definition televisions on flat panel displays that hang on a wall like a painting," Steven Abramson, president of Universal Display Corporation, said in a press release.

While the majority of patent research at the University is conducted in the engineering school, professors from other departments including chemistry, computer science and molecular biology are constantly involved in research projects that bring revenue to the University, Ritter added.

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