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Auburn IPX office, innovative patents, aid continued move up NAI top 100

Auburn IPX office, innovative patents, aid continued move up NAI top 100

By Mike Jernigan
June 05, 2024 @ 9:32 a.m.
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Auburn University has been ranked among the top 100 U.S. universities granted utility patents in 2023, according to a report published recently by the National Academy of Inventors (NAI).

With 16 new patents issued in 2023, Auburn was ranked 87th on the list, 10 places higher than last year. The list was created to highlight and celebrate American innovation and to recognize those universities that play a large role in advancing the innovation ecosystem within the U.S. and beyond.

A sampling of Auburn’s recent patents demonstrates the wide scope of innovative research ongoing across the university. These include a new aid for use in canine detection training that allows dogs to be taught to alert on extremely hazardous substances without actual risk of exposure to those substances by the dogs or their trainers. Another patent was issued for a low-cost, extremely sensitive sensor — designed to detect a variety of substances — that can be used in a number of inexpensive diagnostic devices. 

According to Patrick Reed, who was named executive director of the AU IP Exchange (IPX) Office at the beginning of 2024, the number of patents as well as Auburn’s NAI ranking should only contin

ue to increase thanks to a renewed emphasis on encouraging and incubating innovation across the entire campus.

The IP Exchange, located in Auburn’s Research Park, supports innovation and connects AU subject matter experts with external partners to help bring new ideas and products to market. IPX also moves beyond the traditional technology transfer role by getting involved earlier in the collaborative research process.

“We bring decades of experience evaluating and cultivating early-stage innovation,” Reed said, “and work daily with faculty, staff and students; patents and copyrights; and business, industry and other external partners. Bringing Auburn innovation to the marketplace for the benefit of the public is at the core of everything we do.”

One example of a 2023 patent that is already being brought to the marketplace to benefit the public is a new method for manufacturing personalized protective gear such as pads and braces based on a body scan of the future wearer. An Auburn-based company, XO Armor, is already using this technique — along with advanced 3-D printing technology — to develop individualized athletic and medical devices for clients nationwide. The company was founded by Michael Zabala, Auburn Alumni Engineering Council Associate Professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering.

And while the university’s STEM areas have traditionally been strong centers of innovation, Reed also noted that the Auburn IPX is increasingly expanding its reach into other colleges and schools campus-wide. The IP Exchange also plans to pursue more federal grant funding opportunities to bolster and increase innovation, commercialization and entrepreneurship across the entire campus.

“We are working to grow the innovation tent at AU by approaching other colleges and schools as well as researchers outside of the usual STEM areas,” he said. “Bringing non-STEM areas into the fold will grow our core metrics while also helping to create new areas of interdisciplinary research, such as inclusion of industrial design or psychology into relevant lines of research inquiry.”

Finally, IPX is working to further improve its services to make them ever more user-friendly. The office has added several new staff members in the past 12 months to further improve the client experience. “Our goal is to make working with IPX as easy as possible,” Reed explained. “We want to be seen as a nimble, flexible, and creative research-support unit.”

All these IPX initiatives promise to continue to add to Auburn’s already strong association with the NAI. In addition to its inclusion on the Top 100 U.S. Universities list, AU has seen nine of its faculty members named as NAI fellows and one as an NAI senior member. The prestigious NAI fellows program honors academicians “who have demonstrated a spirit of innovation in creating or facilitating outstanding inventions that have made a tangible impact on quality of life, economic development and the welfare of society.”

Current and emeritus Auburn faculty members who have previously been recognized as NAI fellows include Fa Foster Dai, J. David Irwin, Joseph W. Kloepper, John Weete, the late S.D. “Dave” Worley, Bruce Tatarchuk and the late Vitaly Vodyanoy. Auburn faculty member Yonhua Tzeng and Mehmet Arik were named NAI fellows in 2022 and 2023, respectively. Jin Wang, the first Auburn faculty member to be named a senior member, is the Walt and Virginia Woltosz Professor in Auburn’s Samuel Ginn College of Engineering. Wang’s research innovations center around effectively converting waste into value-added products.

Founded in 2010 to recognize and encourage inventors with patents issued from the United States Patent and Trademark Office, the NAI is a member organization of U.S. and international universities and governmental and non-profit research institutes, with more than 4,000 individual inventor members and fellows spanning more than 250 institutions worldwide.

Michael Zabala with mannequin displaying orthotic device

Michael Zabala is one of the patent holders whose innovations earned Auburn a spot in the National Academy of Inventors' ranking of top 100 universities granted utility patents in 2023.

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