Tech-transfer slowly rebounding at Rainforest Innovations

Rainforest Innovations’ fiscal year 2022 technology-transfer achievements clearly reflect today’s post-pandemic trends, with entrepreneurial interest by UNM faculty and investor pursuit of university inventions on the upswing again, but still noticeably below previous years.

The latest annual metrics for FY 2022, which ended June 30, show UNM-related startup formation and invention disclosures by university researchers slowly rebounding.

Investors formed eight new companies to take UNM technologies to market this past year. That’s up from four in 2020 and six in 2021. But it’s still well below the annual average of nearly a dozen startups between 2016 and 2019.

And new licensing agreements for investors to commercialize UNM technology remains depressed, with only 41 licenses signed last year, down from 53 in 2019.

Likewise, faculty invention disclosures have climbed somewhat, from 81 in 2021 to 94 this past year. That’s critical, because those disclosures provide the needed pipeline of new technologies for Rainforest Innovations to seek patents, which they then license to entrepreneurs to take to market.

But disclosures remain well below the prepandemic average of 115 faculty inventions per year between 2016 and 2020.

And that, in turn, has led to much fewer patents filed by Rainforest Innovations, reflecting three years of steady decline since 2019.

“Patent applications mirror activity with faculty disclosure rates,” said Rainforest Innovations President and CEO Lisa Kuuttila. “If that goes down, patent work goes down.”

Still, with disclosure rates up a bit, and startup formation gradually rising again, tech-transfer activity is on the rebound, Kuuttila said.

“We’re not at prepandemic levels, but things are getting better,” she said. “We’re seeing a lot more activity from investors and entrepreneurs looking at our technology portfolio. We’re fielding a lot of new inquiries now, with one or two calls every week.”

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