The General Assembly passed legislation in June to allow for the creation of the private foundation, and Gov. Donald Carcieri signed it into law in July. The foundation will be a self-sustaining enterprise funded through royalties generated from patents and other intellectual property.
“State revenues to the University have been dwindling over the years, and little of that funding supports research activities,” said Peter Alfonso, URI’s vice president for research and economic development. “The URI Research Foundation will provide an additional revenue stream to support our research. It will also be a boon to economic development in the state by commercializing new technologies that can lead to the creation of new companies and high-paying technology-based jobs.”
Intellectual property developed by researchers at URI can generate revenue for the University and the state through licensing agreements with third party companies that seek to use the development for a fee, or through the establishment of start-up companies launched by the researchers. Federal law requires universities receiving federal research funding to try to market the research.
An independent research foundation provides the operational flexibility necessary to compete with other universities for licensing dollars while also shielding the institution from liability, according to Alfonso, who will serve as director of the foundation. It will also provide a vehicle for the university to accept ownership of equity in a company, in lieu of royalty payments, which is prohibited by state institutions. The foundation would be audited each year and be subject to state laws governing conflict of interest and ethics.
Previously, efforts to commercialize URI’s intellectual property were undertaken by the URI Foundation, whose primary role has been the management of the University’s endowment, and a small technology transfer staff based in the URI Research Office. Alfonso said that bringing all intellectual property commercialization efforts under the umbrella of the research arm of the University will be more effective and efficient.
The next steps in establishing the research foundation are the hiring of a technology transfer director and the formation of a board of directors. A search is under way to identify candidates for the technology transfer director, who Alfonso expects will be in place sometime during the fall semester. The board of directors will include the URI president, vice president for administration and vice president for research as ex officio members, plus a number of individuals from the private sector.
“We would like those private sector members to come from the market sectors where we have research strengths, including biotechnology, pharmacy, engineering and the marine industries,” Alfonso said. “Maintaining strong connections with the private sector will be key to the success of the research foundation and our commercialization efforts.”