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NASA opens patent portfolio to bay area students

Mark Parker



One of the most promising patents USF students are evaluating for commercial use is an automated plant growing system. Photo courtesy of Lin Jiang.

Through a partnership with NASA, college students now have the opportunity to utilize patents originally intended for use in space right here in Tampa Bay.

NASA is offering its wealth of innovative technology and patents to students at the University of South Florida and Hillsborough Community College as part of the space organization’s Technology Transfer University, orT2U program. Students have access to NASA’s full roster of patents to test and evaluate the new technology for terrestrial uses and commercial viability.

USF and HCC are two of 32 colleges around the country that NASA is partnering with, and HCC is one of just two community colleges afforded the opportunity. HCC is hosting a three-day event from February 12 to 19 called Patenthon to give students, businesses and entrepreneurs the chance to brainstorm ideas. Students from the University of Florida and USF will also participate.

According to NASA’s T2U website, USF was one of the first schools to participate in the new, all-virtual version of the program released last year. Dr. Lin Jiang, assistant professor of entrepreneurship at USF’s Muma College of Business, thought the program would be ideal for students in her strategic market assessment course.

Dr. Lin Jiang, assistant professor of entrepreneurship at USF. Photo provided.

“What NASA did, was they bundled a bunch of NASA patents and put them in different categories …,” said Jiang. “So that either faculty members or students can consider using those patents and turn them into some technology or product that can be commercialized.”

Jiang said after evaluating the patents, some students may decide to apply for a license to commercialize the technology. According to a report by 83degreesmedia, NASA is waiving initial fees and making the more than 1,500 patents in its portfolio available to students for three years before requiring a $3,000 commercial license.

However, Jiang said most students would stop with analyzing the patents for their potential to solve everyday problems here on earth. She called this a semester-long process with two components – technical potential and market potential. She said the technical aspect involves investigating other, established technologies the new patents would compete against for market share.

“They also look at inventors,” added Jiang. “Are those inventors motivated to continue working on this domain so they can provide additional support if someone is going to license the patent?”

Jiang said having support from inventors is vital to commercializing a patent, as the creators possess an intricate knowledge of the technology that is difficult to replicate.

After identifying competing technologies and gauging the support of inventors, the students then evaluate a patent’s market potential. So far, Jiang said students identified potential opportunities with patents regarding wastewater treatment, automated plant irrigation and self-repairing aluminum.

USF students are evaluating the potential commercial use of self-healing aluminum in vehicles. Photo courtesy of nasa.gov.

“They pick a market application that they’re either interested in, or they’ve found is likely to have a big potential,” said Jiang. “Then they try to estimate what would be the market size or market share for a new product using NASA’s invention.”

Jiang explained that the automated irrigation system was originally intended to use in space and allows plants to grow in microgravity. The system plants, feeds and then harvests the plants with minimal human intervention. Jiang said the growth system shows promise in home gardening, farming and restaurant applications.

Jiang said the self-healing aluminum was originally designed for use on spacecraft, and could offer a solution to many problems on earth. She said a student evaluated its use in automobiles, as more vehicles now rely on aluminum parts both on the body and the interior.

Jiang said she regularly invites a patent inventor into the classroom. The discussions are held virtually, and Jiang said the inventors bring insight that cannot be gleaned from the patent itself or student research.




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