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Invention hotbed USF among world's top patent holders

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Published:   |   Updated: December 22, 2013 at 12:12 PM

TAMPA — Her boyfriend suffered a nasty cut between his thumb and forefinger, where a traditional bandage wouldn't hold. Kerriann Greenhalgh fretted, especially when her beau ended up with a staph infection that required surgery.

“That was a very traumatic thing to go through just from a small cut that should have been able to be protected from infection,” she said. “There just wasn't anything out there that did that.”

Fast-forward a year or so when the University of South Florida grad student in organic chemistry was noodling around with a nanoparticle drug delivery system and came upon a polymer that had properties that mirrored those of human skin.

“The two just kind of clicked together for me,” Greenhalgh said. “I thought this would make a really neat, effective second-skin product.”

Today, her KeriCure liquid bandage product is in 900 Publix and 200 Kroger stores. She's lobbying for its use in post-surgical settings and dermatology. (And the long-since-recovered boyfriend is now her husband and father of their 13-month-old son.)

Greenhalgh credits USF's culture of invention, entrepreneurship and commercialization with helping her get her product to market.

The school has been honored for that culture before, but this month came more kudos – USF was ranked 15th in the world in the number of U.S. patents granted to universities, according to the National Academy of Inventors and the Intellectual Property Owners Association.

“Clearly, this is just one example of the change of culture at USF where we've really tried to push innovation, technology transfer and taking things out of the laboratories into the real world,” said Paul R. Sanberg, the university's senior vice president for research and innovation. “Over the years we've been pushing, trying to educate the faculty, if you have something useful that you think could be commercialized, let us know about it.”

According to the rankings, based on data from the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office, USF landed 79 patents. That tied for 15th with Johns Hopkins University and was the highest ranking in the state.

University of Central Florida's ranking of 21 and the University of Florida's 22 demonstrates the significance of the central Florida/I-4 Corridor in technology, school officials said.

USF has established a Technology Transfer Office for Patents and Licensing, and staffers can help entrepreneurs like Greenhalgh with fundraising, developing a business plan, getting in front of venture capital groups, navigating the patenting process and other assistance.

The school has five professors — six if you count the head of Moffitt Cancer Center who holds a joint appointment to USF — as charter fellows in the national Academy of Inventors.

Mark Jaroszeski, a professor of chemical and biomedical engineering, holds 22 patents with USF, mostly in electrically mediated gene and drug delivery.

“This has been a culture that has been gaining momentum since I started at the university 20 years ago,” he said. “It is always just understood that if you come up with an invention that is patentable and useful, it's your duty to disclose it to the university and start the patent process, flat out.”

The results of research performed at a state university belong to the state, so patents are typically shared and USF gets an equity stake in products that go to market; lucrative patents such as those for popular drugs can earn a university hundreds of millions of dollars.

Nobody's getting rich yet off KeriCure, and Greenhalgh is considering a second round of fundraising for another marketing push.

She's moved out of her garage lab into an office in Wesley Chapel, with four employees and eight USF undergraduate interns.

“She epitomizes what we're trying to do here at USF,” said Sanberg, the research and innovation chief.

Greenhalgh wasn't surprised to learn of her alma mater's high ranking on the patent list.

“The best thing to come out of this is that companies will start recognizing us and come looking to see what we have,” she said.

jstockfisch@tampatrib.com

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