ASU celebrates its innovators as new chapter of National Academy of Inventors launches at university

A framed patent on display at the ASU inventors luncheon

If necessity is the mother of invention, Arizona State University is a hotbed of midwifery.

The university celebrated opening a chapter of the National Academy of Inventors by honoring the 101 faculty and researchers who have earned patents or had their technology licensed by ASU.

Of the top 100 universities in the world for patents, ASU ranks 38th.

“What it is all about at the end of the day when we talk about these kinds of rankings, it is truly a reflection of the spirit that is exemplified at ASU, which is primarily defined by what all of you are doing to advance this university,” Sethuraman Panchanathan, executive vice president of the ASU Knowledge Enterprise and chief research and innovation officer, told the ASU faculty and researchers at the celebration.

Before 2003, ASU had seven startups. Now there are more than 100, said Kenneth Polasko, executive director of Arizona Technology Enterprises.

Founded in 2003, the organization is a technology transfer office that has launched 100 companies based on ASU innovations. Fields of invention have ranged from energy and construction to diagnostics, materials and environmental innovations.

“These have really had an impact on the state of Arizona,” Polasko said. “I think that’s not well-known in our community or the academic community. When we went back and looked at the economic impact, those 100 companies ... have attracted over $650 million in investment.”

That’s money that mostly stays in Arizona, paying salaries to the estimated 500 employees those startups have hired, then trickling down to real estate and local businesses.

“Again, a very good economic development story,” Polasko said. “This is a celebration of the economic impact you are having. ... You are the superstars of this activity.”

Thirty-four people with six or more patents were honored at the celebration Thursday.

“This is a tremendous achievement, because if you look at the overall size of the faculty at ASU, this is a huge percentage of the faculty who are participating in this activity,” Panchanathan said.

Having a university chapter of the National Academy of InventorsSometimes called the academic wing of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, the organization promotes academic innovation. More than 210 universities belong to NAI. “changes the culture,” said academy founder and president Paul Sanberg.

“We want to change the academic culture,” said Sanberg, who has been issued 111 patents. “That was the main reason we started. How many people have gotten their first patent and other people in the department went, ‘Oh well — so what? You just want to be a millionaire. You’re not doing pure academics.’ That’s a story many of us have encountered. ...  That is a story we want to change.”

Top photo: One of more than 100 patents on display at the Celebration of Invention luncheon in Tempe. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now 

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