ASU ranks in top 10 for inventions, patents, licenses and startups among universities without medical schools

Innovations from the Ira. A. Fulton Schools of Engineering and Biodesign Institute were big contributors


Kate Fisher of SunFlex Solar inspects a solar panel

SunFlex Solar co-founder Kate Fisher inspects the embossed aluminum foil at the heart of award-winning ASU solar energy innovation. Photo courtesy SunFlex Solar

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Arizona State University ranks among the top 10 research institutions without a medical school for inventions disclosed, U.S. patents secured, license and option deals closed and startups launched, according to the Association of University Technology Managers' latest survey of 147 reporting institutions on licensing activities at U.S. and Canadian universities, hospitals and research institutions. 

ASU, California Institute of Technology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and North Carolina State University were the only universities that ranked in the top 10 across all four categories among institutions without medical schools. 

In fiscal year 2021, ASU ranked higher than the previous fiscal year for three of the four key metrics among its peer group of institutions without medical schools, according to AUTM’s survey data. ASU rose one spot to third for U.S. patents issued, rose one spot to second for startups launched and rose two spots to seventh for license and option deals closed. It remained fifth for inventions disclosed, compared to fiscal year 2020. 

Innovations from researchers in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering and the Biodesign Institute significantly boosted ASU’s results. 

“ASU continues to excel in these performance indicators because its commitment to innovation and real-world impact is woven into the very fabric of its charter and is exemplified by its leaders,” said Kyle Siegal, senior vice president and chief patent counsel for Skysong Innovations. 

Skysong Innovations, ASU’s exclusive technology transfer and intellectual property management organization, helps translate research into impact by protecting intellectual property developed in ASU labs and negotiating licensing deals with commercial partners who advance the technologies and develop solutions for society.

The organization, fueled by ASU’s growing research enterprise, has cumulatively secured more than 1,400 U.S. patents for ASU and closed nearly 1,400 license or option deals with commercial partners during its years of service to ASU. Skysong Innovations has also facilitated more than 200 ASU startups that have collectively attracted more than $1.2 billion in external funding. 

“One of our strengths as a university is reflected in ASU’s ability to facilitate research discoveries into startups — an area of growth that represents our commitment to the overall health of our local and national communities,” said Sally C. Morton, executive vice president of ASU’s Knowledge Enterprise. “Innovation at this speed and scale requires the ability to change the way we look at and solve problems; it takes commitment, teamwork, entrepreneurship, and community engagement, and ASU continues leading the way.”

During fiscal year 2021, ASU had 301 invention disclosures, which is an innovation submitted by an ASU researcher for potential commercialization.

ASU startups seek to solve global challenges

FY21 saw the birth of new startups across a broad spectrum of sectors including biotech, solar energy and software.

• GELF Energy was among the 21 ASU startups established in FY21. The company is developing microbial technologies that process food and sewage waste streams into transportable hydrogen gas for the maritime and transportation sectors. The technologies were invented by John Sabo, former professor in the Global Institute of Sustainability and Innovation; Bruce Rittmann, Biodesign Swette Center for Environmental Biotechnology director and professor; and Cesar Torres, professor in the School for Engineering of Matter, Transport and Energy. 

• Lifelab Studios is developing an online learning platform that connects learners in small communities to support each other as they use learning to achieve real-world goals. The platform was created by a team of researchers, programmers and artists, including Sasha Barab, professor in the School for the Future of Innovation in Society and the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College and executive director of the Center for Games and Impact.

• SunFlex Solar is developing high-efficiency interdigitated back-contact solar panels. The company was co-founded by Kate Fisher, assistant research technologist at the School of Electrical, Computer and Energy Engineering; Zachary Holman, associate professor in the School of Electrical, Computer, and Energy Engineering and director of faculty entrepreneurship in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering; Zhengshan “Jason” Yu, research assistant professor, School of Electrical Computer and Energy Engineering; and graduate research associate Barry Hartweg.

• VaxSyna Inc. is another ASU startup established in FY21. The company is developing low-cost vaccines and therapeutics that can be easily modified to combat various pathogens associated with global health challenges. The technology was invented by Hugh Mason, associate professor in the Biodesign Center for Immunotherapy, Vaccines and Virotherapy, and Academic Associate Mary Pardhe.

Patented technologies advance early detection of neurological conditions

There were 157 U.S. patents issued for ASU technologies during the period, and 81 licenses and option deals closed during that time.

In October 2020, Skysong Innovations secured for ASU a patent exclusively licensed to Aural Analytics that covers the use of a patient’s speech to detect and track neurological conditions including Parkinson’s disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Huntington’s disease, multiple sclerosis, traumatic brain injury, stroke and other conditions where motor speech changes may occur.

Aural Analytics, a venture-backed ASU spinout company, has built applications that use speech to detect subtle changes in brain health. The company was co-founded by Julie Liss, associate dean and professor in the College of Health Solutions, and Visar Berisha, associate professor with a joint appointment in the College of Health Solutions and the School of Electrical, Computer and Energy Engineering.

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