Invention factory 

by Robert L. Smith

The School of Engineering helped CWRU become one of the top patent producers in the world

Case Western Reserve University leapt ahead in global patent rankings in 2018, cracking the Top 20 for the first time, thanks to a strong showing by engineering and science researchers. 

The university ranked 17th in the world among universities granted U.S. utility patents in 2018, up from 43rd in 2017, according to a recent study. That’s tops in Ohio and better than many peer research universities, including Carnegie Mellon, Duke, Northwestern and University of Chicago. 

Joseph Jankowski, the university’s Chief Innovation Officer, credits a culture of discovery and invention momentum. The university invested in the kinds of resources that both attract and support ambitious research. 

“It starts with the inventor,” he said. “We have a very active research faculty.” 

The patent rankings, compiled by the National Academy of Inventors and the Intellectual Property Owners Association, are based on data from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. They reflect “utility patents,” or patents designed to protect an invention. 

CWRU attained 95 utility patents in 2018, by all accounts the most in school history. While the study tallies patents that the university owns, each patent is assigned an inventor, usually a faculty member. 

Mark Griswold, PhD, a researcher who has pioneered HoloLens technology and augmented reality, was CWRU’s top inventor in 2018 with 13 patents. The professor of radiology holds a joint appointment with the School of Medicine and the Department of Biomedical Engineering at the Case School of Engineering. 

Coming in second was Anant Madabhushi, PhD, whose deep learning computers are advancing medical imaging in the Wickendon Building. The professor of biomedical engineering attained 9 patents in 2018, to go with 9 patents awarded him in the previous two years. 

Other top inventors in recent years include Dustin Tyler, an expert in neural engineering and advanced prosthetics. The associate professor of biomedical engineering attained seven patents in 2016. 

Overall, 62 percent of patents ascribed to CWRU in 2018 came from an innovation or invention in the Case School of Engineering, according to the Technology Transfer Office. Thirty-four percent of patents were generated by the School of Medicine and 4 percent by the College of Arts and Sciences. 

CWRU’s patent production is unusually high relative to the volume of research activity, Jankowski said. 

With an annual research budget of about $340 million, the university should expect about 131 invention disclosures, the first step in the patent process, he said. Instead, faculty and staff filed 277 invention disclosures in 2018. 

“That’s immense,” Jankowski said. “We’re an invention factory.” 

Michael Haag, executive director of the Office of Research and Technology Management, credits a strategic approach that began about a dozen years ago, when university trustees agreed to bolster the tech transfer team.  There’s a long “lag time” with patents, four or five years between the application and the awarding of a patent, but the university is now seeing the results of building the pipeline. 

CWRU ranked 51st in patent production in 2015, rose to 46th in 2016, 43rd in 2017, and now stands at 17. 

Researchers say they also benefit from the dynamic research environment in University Circle. Madabhushi, who came to CWRU from Rutgers, said he was struck by how easily he’s able to collaborate with top doctors from University Hospitals and Cleveland Clinic.

 Madabushi has attained 25 patents since arriving at Case Quad in 2012; he has 30 more patent applications pending.