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Gifts that Keep Giving: Patents

This Christmas, universities added patents to their wish list. In the latest trend in corporate philanthropy, large companies are giving away millions in unused intellectual property, and walking away with a tax write-off-and plenty of good will.

In October, Procter & Gamble gave 40 U.S. and international patents to the Milwaukee School of Engineering; all the gift-wrapped items are related to a technique to speed up product design. The gift is part of “a comprehensive re-thinking of the way we use our patent rights,” says Jacobus Rasswer, P&G vice president and general counsel for patents. Other corporate giants, including DuPont, Dow Chemical and Hoechst, have been in a similarly generous mood (see table on page 2).

This largesse might only be the beginning. Procter & Gamble, for one, holds some 25,000 patents worldwide-but only 10 percent cover technology the company actually uses. In the past the multinational corporation just “stored the rest away,” says Rasswer. “That mindset has totally changed,” he says, since P&G set about trying to get more value out of its intellectual property holdings two years ago. In addition to donating patents, P&G has begun licensing patents to other companies and posting inventions for sale on an online patent exchange called Yet2.com that it helped launch.

To see a return, however, universities have to invest-in marketing the technologies and in research. “You are acquiring a fishing license. A patent is just a piece of paper unless you can add value to it,” says Ron Sampson, president of the Mid-American Commercialization Corporation, a group that works with Kansas State University. Sampson has already turned away one would-be donor. “We just couldn’t see the benefit,” he says.

GiverRecipientValueEatonMid-American
Commercialization$17 millionFordNational Center for
Manufacturing Sciences$22 millionDow ChemicalRensselaer Polytechnic
Institute$4 millionDuPontUniversity of Iowa$35 millionHoechstClemson University$12 million

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