NEW YORK--Taking the development of Internet technologies to the Web itself, a venture capital group that commercializes university research will launch a Web site Oct 1. that aims to be a portal for technology transfers from academia to the marketplace.
The University Ventures Inc. site is one of a growing number of online homes of intellectual property. Technologies that are already part of UVI's stable include a tool called Catapult that simplifies Web publishing, an MPEG-4 media player, schemes for online auctions and for video imaging, and Emote, a software program to animate facial expressions in online virtual characters.
Innovations wrought at the university often languish for lack of a corporate partner to turn them into marketable products. UVI wants tobroker such marriages. After signing on to the UVI site, professors can check a database to determine whether their ideas are truly unique, "chat" with entrepreneurs and, ultimately, self-publish their innovations in hopes of nabbing a backer-all for free.
UVI has accumulated more than $1 million in seed capitalization from private investors for these projects, but it hopes its new portal will attract more money from institutional investors. The site "will enhance the visibility of the vast quantities of new Internet technologies invented at universities," said Garnet Heraman, chief executive officer of University Ventures (New York).
Many business models are available, from sublicensing to outside developers all the way to direct product development and marketing by UVI itself. Professors get royalties, consulting work and, perhaps, eventually even a job at a company based on a technology they invented.
About a half dozen organizations in the United States are pursuing the commercialization of new technologies, but none has a Web site aimed at facilitating free technology transfers. The closest is a site sponsored by the universities themselves- , maintained by the Association of University Technology Managers Inc.-which has a free multi-university search engine for licensable technologies.
At the other end of the spectrum, a commercial database of licensable technologies-yet2. com-is underwritten by 3M, Allied Signal, Boeing, Polaroid, Rockwell, Sun and other large corporations. It basically puts companies together, matching licenses available with technologies desired for a fee. A new site, the Patent & License Exchange, promises to elevate such company-to-company transactions to an e-commerce level. Also, the Intellectual Property Technology Exchange specializes in company-to-company exchange for biotechnoloy inventions. But none of these sites has the breadth of interactive tools UVI is promising.
UVI is drawing on Internet-savvy partners to make its Web site work. "UVI has done a good job of assembling a network of partners, and in bringing funding to bear quickly," said Michael Odza, founder of the Technology Access Journal (Novato, Calif.), which will contribute news items and an events calendar to the site.
The site will host the largest, oldest and most active e-mailing list service, called "techno-l," over which some 1,000 members now exchange expert answers and feedback on technology questions. For chat, UVI has partnered with The Palace to create a state-of-the-art environment.
Another key element is the Technology Listing Area, created for UVI by Web developer Kaufman Patricof Enterprises. Here, customizable self-publishing tools will let professors or university licensing offices market their ideas to entrepreneurs and automatically glean statistics relevant to their chance at success. The online tool kit can be used to put any kind of material into a Web-based presentation, including hyperlinked descriptions, detailed white papers, URLs and graphics.
Users can post questions to UVI or the university's contact and talk with the professors in chat rooms or via e-mail. Comments will be archived and searchable by all.
The need for academics to get help on the commercial side is sharply felt in some quarters-the University of Pennsylvania's Center for Human Modeling & Simulation, for one. Professor Norm Badler there created Emote, the animation tool that UVI is now looking to commercialize. "We've been creating human emotion animation software for 20 years, and we've gone through the heartaches of commercializing software on our own," Badler said.
The center's first commercial creation, called Jack, was licensed to startup Transom Technologies Inc. (Ann Arbor, Mich.; ) in 1996. Transom claims the program is the industry's most comprehensive human-form simulation solution.
To do so,"We had to get involved in all the intricacies of starting up a new company-the university actually interviewed CEOs, and I had to help convince investors to come up with seed money," said Badler.
Badler didn't look forward to starting yet another company for Emote. "I like being a professor, and I think that remaining in academia is where I can be the most creative," he said. "My experience with commercializing Jack was a total distraction from my creative work."
Instead, Badler chose to farm out the commercialization to UVI. "UVI has been great. They looked at our technology and showed us what we had to do to it to make it marketable, and they have promised to take over all the business development work that needs to be done to get Emote into the marketplace," he said.
For instance, Emote was originally developed to animate the motion of human limbs in walking, running and dancing. UVI's advice: retarget to facial expressions, to best capitalize on market needs. In addition, UVI suggested that instead of creating another complete animation package, as Badler had done for Jack, Emote should be marketed as a plug-in for existing packages."We think that we can create a facial animation plug-in for UVI that expresses all the important emotions with relatively few parameters to adjust," said Badler.
For the walking prototype, Badler's student Diane Chi "built a computational model of Laban movement analysis" that "distills down the control parameters to just four degrees of freedom, called weight, space, time and flow," said Badler. Thus, gestures and other motions can be controlled with four on-screen "sliders." "We are currently retooling Emote for expressing emotions with an animated face. We will definitely need more than the four adjustable parameters we used for arms, but it will still be much simpler than starting from scratch, like animators have to do today," said Badler.
Since its founding in 1998, UVI has signed up four other university-originated technologies that fall into two categories of Internet development: content management-including data compression, GUIs, nongraphical interfaces like voice activation and computer graphics standards-and knowledge management, embracing document management, collaborative tools for group development work and such new categories as bandwidth maximizers.
One technology in the first category is a visual-similarity technique that mimics the human visual system to automatically detect the breaks between scenes in videos and films. Scenes are automatically classified by computing the changes between frames and indexing those striking enough to mark separate scenes.
Another technology UVI has taken on is a knowledge management tool that simplifies Web publishing for large corporations. Catapult can extract the content from existing legacy mainframes and instantly transform it into Web pages without reformatting. The fourth technology is what UVI claims is the industry's first MPEG-4 media player, and the fifth is a technique for doing online auctions.
"We are very interested right now in signature recognition, online power distribution management for utilities and advanced pattern-recognition techniques," said UVI president Craig Zolan.