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USF inventors secure record number of patents

Brian Hartz

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USF researchers received a patent for a device that uses artificial intelligence to monitor pain levels in infants.

Inventors affiliated with the University of South Florida received a record 123 patents in 2020, which makes the university one of the country’s most prolific institutions for new inventions.

In fact, according to a press release, USF ranks eighth — among American public research universities — in terms of new, novel and useful inventions granted intellectual property protection from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). When universities worldwide are factored in, USF ranks 15th overall.

Furthermore, since the National Academy of Inventors began publishing its patent rankings in 2013, USF has consistently been in the top 10 nationally and top 20 globally.

“The University of South Florida is proud to fuel the vibrancy and strength of the Tampa Bay regional economy by serving as a research and innovation powerhouse,” USF President Steven Currall stated in the release. “Patent production continues to be an important indicator of our performance as a top urban research university and vital to our nation’s competitiveness in today’s global innovation ecosystem.”

USF inventors in 2020 secured patents in a wide range of disciplines, including medical sciences, robotics and cybersecurity. However, according to the release, the NAI rankings do not account for the many Covid-19-related inventions produced by USF faculty and students in 2020.

One of the most novel inventions is a device for monitoring pain levels in newborn babies. Created by Morsani College of Medicine’s Dr. Terri Ashmeade and College of Engineering professors Dmitry Goldgof, Yu Sun and Rangachar Katsuri, along with USF engineering doctoral alum Ghada Al Zamzmi, the device uses an artificial-intelligence-enabled system of cameras and sensors that monitors infants’ cries, limb movements, vital signs and facial expression to alert caregivers to the earliest signs of pain.

USF engineering Professor Daniel Yeh and Senior Development Engineer Robert Bair, along with USF engineering alums Onur Ozcan, George Dick, Jorge Calabria and Matthew Woodham, created a system that converts human wastewater into nutrients, energy and clean water. According to the release, three international companies have licensed the technology and are manufacturing the system for distribution in India and South Africa.

Alya Limayem, an assistant professor in the Taneja College of Pharmacy, and Shyam Mohapatra, a USF Distinguished Professor in the Morsani College of Medicine, received a patent for chitosan oligomer, a substance derived from the exoskeletons of crustaceans that can fight drug-resistant bacteria using natural antimicrobial agents as an alternative to synthetic chemicals.

College of Engineering Professor Norma Alcantar, a recent inductee to the Florida Inventors Hall of Fame, received a patent for a product that removes ammonia from water using a natural, non-toxic product derived from earth minerals commonly found in volcanic deposits. The product, the release stated, can extend the life of contained fish, which are threatened by high concentrations of ammonia in water. Engineering Professor Sarina Ergas and doctoral alumna Wen Zhao are co-inventors of the product.

Lastly, Meera Nanjudan, an associate professor in the Department of Cell Biology, Microbiology and Molecular Biology, co-invented a new treatment for endometriosis, a condition affecting women that causes debilitating pain, infertility and a risk of developing rare types of ovarian tumors. Collaborating with USF doctoral alum Kyle Bauckman and Idhaliz Flores of Ponce Health Sciences University, Nanjudan’s team came up with a way to use the anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine to diagnose, treat and prevent endometriosis at the cellular level, reducing the need for other treatments and surgeries.

“USF researchers have become known worldwide for their dedication to finding new ways of solving old problems and addressing entrenched global challenges,” said David Conrad, the director of the university’s Technology Transfer Office, in a prepared statement. “While this ranking is one measure of their achievements, even more significant to USF’s faculty and student inventors is the potential each new patent holds to save lives, shape the future and make our region’s growing knowledge economy even stronger through the new industries and jobs that flow from innovative ideas.”

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