Portland State University and technology startup company Octavian Scientific Inc. have become partners.
Under the new style of partnership, PSU will exchange its rights to technologies developed by specified research for stock in the company. The partnership is said to be the first such among Oregon public universities following the passage of ballot measure 10. The measure permits universities to hold and dispose of stock in technologies developed through funded research activities.
Octavian has leased space in the Fourth Avenue Building. This gives the company on-site access to PSU’s faculty and students in the College of Engineering and Computer Science.
“Their company is set up to find faster and less expensive ways to do testing of integrated circuits,” said Robert Dryden, dean of the College of Engineering and Computer Science.
“It’s of interest to them to have access to a circuit test facility like we have here. Our Integrated Circuits Design and Test laboratory (ICDT) is something they can use and will enhance their ability to do the work their company is set up to do.” The ICDT is headed by W. Robert Daasch.
Dryden sees the partnership as a win-win scenario.
“Our researchers from the ICDT lab can walk down the hall and talk to their individuals with 70 years of testing experience,” he said. “We have access to them in terms of all of their insight and experience over the combined 70 years of the group there. And they have access to our testing facility.”
Octavian presently has no lab equipment of its own, Dryden said.
“I believe, as they go along, they will add some equipment,” he said. “That will probably be placed in our laboratory for us to use as well, but that is something to come, not part of the deal.”
The collaboration raises the question of what rights a professor or student may have to technological discoveries in the lab. Dryden said the college addresses that through an industrial advisory board with a subcommittee that meets on intellectual property.
The details of stock for research exchanges are being worked out by Jay Kenton, vice president of finance and administration, he said.
“In terms of any intellectual property that may result, there can be a number of different options,” Dryden said. “They could include royalty payments or stock. The state attorney assigned to us could determine the intellectual property is not of interest to us, so it could be granted solely to them.”
Ownership of intellectual property can depend on who initiates the original concept.
Dryden said the college is currently working with other companies. One is LSI logic, which is also using the ICDT lab.
Measure 10 allows the stock for research option specifically in technologies “developed through funded research activities.” This does not mean funded by the state. It means funded by a company or by the federal government. The agreement does not give Octavian any exclusive rights to the lab.
Kenton sees the linkup as offering advantages to all parties. It focuses on the university’s role in economic development; provides a resource to the business community; and helps faculty, students and entrepreneurs to collaborate to their mutual benefit.
Kenton sees this type of arrangement eventually being entered into by as many as 30 or 40 companies, involving different kinds of laboratories in the university. However, Dryden sees the present crowded situation in the Fourth Avenue Building making co-locating of a number of new companies very difficult there.
Asked if the professors in the college are in agreement with this new relationship, Dryden said, “Absolutely. This was proposed by one of our professors.”
What happens if a student makes a discovery that has patentable potentialities?
William Feyerherm, vice provost for Research and Graduate Studies, provided an answer. He pointed out there are two kinds of students involved.
“One of the things Octavian is proposing is to hire students,” he said. “If a student is working on this project under Octavian’s pay, basically their discovery in that lab is going to be part of the jointly-owned technology.”
If the student is working in the lab as a student project, not paid by Octavian, not paid by the university, and makes a discovery that is patentable, then the student has rights to that invention.
If it’s a joint invention, such as between a professor and a student, outside of the work they’re doing with Octavian, both have the possibility of sharing the results of their discovery.