Innovations from the field to operating room helped propel the University of Nebraska system to its best-ever ranking among the top 100 academic institutions earning United States patents.
The newly released 2021 report from the National Academy of Inventors and Intellectual Property Owners Association lists the NU system tied at No. 64. It marks the university’s fifth-straight year on the list and is a climb from No. 77 in the 2020 report.
“Our university’s commitment to collaboration in pursuit of cutting-edge research helps power our success in being among the best at converting innovative ideas into real-world applications,” UNL Chancellor Ronnie Green said. “This ranking is a reflection of our combined ingenuity and entrepreneurship at work, strengthening our economy and improving lives in Nebraska and around the globe.”
The ranking includes patents granted in 2021 by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to the NU system’s technology transfer offices — NUtech Ventures at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln and UNeMed at the University of Nebraska Medical Center and University of Nebraska at Omaha.
The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office granted the NU system researchers 43 patents in 2021. Husker researchers were named inventors on 25 of those patents, including three projects developed in partnership with University of Nebraska Medical Center colleagues.
Earning patents allows NUtech Ventures and UNeMed to work with faculty, staff and students to bring research in areas like biotechnology, agriculture, healthcare, engineering and others to the marketplace. The result is new startup companies, jobs and university-licensed products that grow the economy and improve quality of life.
“To be recognized among so many other leading universities is further confirmation of the creativity and innovation of the University of Nebraska’s faculty,” said Ted Carter, president of the NU system. “Their work is changing lives each and every day, while growing the workforce and economy in Nebraska and beyond. I am so proud of our faculty for making this level of success possible.”
NU’s 2021 report includes six individual patents related to a miniaturized surgical robot invented by UNL’s Shane Farritor, professor of engineering. The patents include a quick-coupler to attach surgical tools, as well as a compact, multi-function attachment that rotates and offers options for cauterizing and cutting.
Farritor is co-founder of Virtual Incision, a startup company based at Nebraska Innovation Campus. For nearly 20 years, he and colleagues have been developing the surgical robot known as MIRA, short for “miniaturized in vivo robotic assistant.” The company has received more than $100 million in venture capital investment since being founded in 2006.
The project recently received $100,000 from NASA to prepare the surgical robot for a 2024 test aboard the International Space Station.
The patent list also features an unmanned aerial vehicle that can be used for fire suppression and ignition.
The UAV was developed by Drone Amplified, a startup led by Carrick Detweiler, professor of computing at UNL. It delivers ping-pong-ball-sized chemical spheres that, when dropped, ignite and start small fires that burn vegetation and starve incoming wildfires of potential fuel.
The drone system has been used to fight fires in Arizona, Alaska and other sites around the country. It was also named as one of the Top 12 Made in America inventions in 2017.
Alongside services for patenting and licensing technology, NUtech Ventures also provides entrepreneurship programs for faculty, staff and students. The programs offer mentorship and startup company support, while covering topics such as customer discovery interviews, value propositions and target markets.
“We are all excited for our Husker inventors and the university again being ranked among the world’s best at earning U.S. patents,” said Brad Roth, president and executive director of NUtech Ventures. “This recognition again exemplifies the innovative work by our faculty, staff and students who are committed to doing cutting-edge research, solving real-world problems, and commercializing technology that improves the lives of people worldwide.”