May 4, 2011

Robert Buhrman ’73 Named Tech Transfer Vice President

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Senior Vice Provost for Research Robert Buhrman Ph.D. ’73 was named to the newly created position of vice president for technology transfer, intellectual property, and research policy. He will hold this position in addition to his role as vice provost.

Technology transfer is an important function by which research universities promote their discoveries to businesses around the world, Buhrman said.

Buhrman’s new duties include overseeing the Cornell Center for Technology, Enterprise and Commercialization, and the University’s patent office. CCTEC is responsible for licensing Cornell patents to existing companies, and also aids Cornell inventors in launching their own startup businesses, he said.

Cornell University Policy 1.5: Inventions and Related Property Rights states that the University can claim ownership of inventions by faculty, staff and students if they make “substantial” use of University facilities. Inventors then receive a third of the net revenue from those technologies, Buhrman said.

He will also chair the Technology Transfer Advisory Committee, which is composed of faculty members, University administrators and trustees who provide advice and guidance to CCTEC. Buhrman said he will report directly to President David Skorton as part of his new post.

Buhrman said that a 2005 review by a University task force, which led to the creation of the new position, has increased cooperation between the University’s research facilities at its Ithaca, New York City and Geneva campuses. Prior to the creation of the task force, “the [technology] transfer office was only for Ithaca. It was felt that we really needed to integrate the offices … The position was created to clarify the situation,” he said.

“Prior to this position there was not as close a relationship between the technology transfer offices around the state,” he said.

While Cornell has produced many breakthrough and transformative technologies over the years, Buhrman said that the University leadership was concerned that Cornell was not doing as effective a job at licensing its inventions as some of its peer institutions, such as Stanford University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

“Partly it’s a consolidation of what we were already doing,” Buhrman said.

In his other role as vice provost for research, Buhrman is tasked with overseeing the University’s Ithaca campus research centers as well as ensuring compliance of research operations with safety guidelines. He said that in total, a third of all federal funding goes through his office. As a result, the addition of technology transfer to his portfolio was a natural one, he said.

“It’s an evolution and a delineation. By some tradition, the vice provost of research here has had multiple tasks, and this office is responsible for the major research institutions we have in Ithaca,” he said.

Buhrman also noted the importance of technology transfer to Skorton, who served as vice president for research at the University of Iowa.

Since CCTEC was reformed in 2005, the University has seen a substantial rise in the number of patents awarded. According to Buhrman, the disclosure rate for intellectual property claims — the number of claims the office has handled — has doubled since the arrival of the new director of the office, Alan Paau. While 2009 saw a nationwide drop in the number of claims due to the economic downturn, Buhrman said that last year saw a record number of disclosures and patents awarded, as well as a record amount of licensing fees from companies. Still, he acknowledged that the office was still being reformed.

“All this stuff takes time … It’s a long process, so you don’t turn this thing around and see great numbers instantaneously. But this is great progress,” Buhrman said.

Original Author: David Marten