Whitaker Laboratory, located on 5 E. Packer Ave., is where The Office of Technology Transfer is located. OTT cultivates an environment of innovation at Lehigh. (Courtesy of Lehigh University)

Office of Technology Transfer works to protect intellectual property

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Rick Smith and Margie Barry are the faces behind Lehigh University’s Office of Technology Transfer, where they work with faculty on tasks from patent filing to company outreach and marketing development. 

Located in Whitaker Lab, the office works to protect the intellectual property of the university, its faculty and its graduate students.

“There’s a lot of different aspects to managing intellectual property,” Smith said. “First, when we get a disclosure, we work with the faculty to determine what the technology is and determine whether or not it is something that is patentable.”

Smith said if the invention has value in the market, they move toward growing company interest in licensing by developing a marketing campaign. 

Since Lehigh is a smaller university than others around the country, the Office of Technology Transfer files about 20 patents per year from the technologies and inventions that the Lehigh faculty develops through research. 

Smith is able to capitalize on his interests in his role as director of the Office of Technology Transfer, using his bachelor’s degrees in computer science and physics, master’s degrees in electrical engineering and entrepreneurship in applied technology, and a MBA in accounting and finance.

“I enjoy working with companies to try to develop a project and bring them to the university, and try to get more interest in Lehigh,” Smith said.

Barry, the administrative coordinator, works alongside Smith in their office. Barry said since Smith came to the office in April 2019, he has made progress in his position.

“He’s had companies come visit, and there are potentials in the works,” Barry said. 

Most recently, Smith has worked with Jonas Baltrusaitis of the Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering department and his new crystallized fertilizer. 

Smith worked to connect Baltrusaitis with Israeli Chemical, and now the professor and the company work to develop and test the product. 

“OTT (Office of Technology Transfer) was instrumental in our efforts, especially so with the new leadership of Rick Smith,” Baltrusaitis said. “Rick has been extremely knowledgeable in establishing connections with the interested parties, a task faculty has no time or skills to perform. He has significant legal matter knowledge, which, again, is not of interest for a faculty. Currently, Rick is taking care of the maturation of the patent application I submitted, which is a tedious process, and I am glad OTT is fully in charge and in control of it.”

If companies are interested in working with the Office of Technology Transfer, they may award a faculty member a project grant to continue developing the technology. 

Smith was also able to coordinate a visit from a Canadian company to connect with John Coulter, a professor in the mechanical engineering department, regarding his 3D printer technology. The company is looking to incorporate Coulter’s technology into its own printer. 

Although Smith works down many avenues for protecting Lehigh’s intellectual property, he enjoys the work. 

“I love working with the faculty,” Smith said. “It forces me to learn new things about science. I’ve always been a science geek and love talking to faculty about their technology, and then I delve into it to learn more.”

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