Calvin's Center To Market New Ideas

December 11, 2007
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GRAND RAPIDS — Calvin College has established a new center aimed at bringing intellectual property developed on campus into the marketplace.

“The purpose of the center is to commercialize intellectual properties that are generated by Calvin and its professors or staff,” said Ron Lubbers, director of the Enterprise Center. “What we want to do is take intellectual property and put it out in the world, into God’s kingdom.

“That may take the form that we have a patent to sell, or let someone use it in a licensing format and collect the revenue, creating an income stream for Calvin using intellectual property development,” Lubbers said. “Probably the major thrust of the Enterprise Center will be in obtaining a patent, trademarks or copyrights, and selling those or licensing their usage to other entities.”

Getting under way this fall, some nine proposals have come into the Enterprise Center already, Lubbers said. Of those, one came from outside, and the rest from faculty members. “We have two of them that we are very interested in and one we will retain legal counsel to do a patent search very shortly,” Lubbers said.

He has enlisted a faculty advisory board and a 13-member business advisory board to review the proposals. They look at the feasibility of the proposal from manufacturing, marketing, legal and financial perspectives. Business advisory board members have agreed to donate $5,000 per year each for five years to fund the Enterprise Center’s launch, Lubbers said.

“There’s sort of a list of questions mentally that I conjure up, things like: Are there barriers to entry into the market? Is it a regulated environment? Is there an exorbitant cost of capital? Would the market receive this properly? Is it useful? Is it patentable?” said Jim Cash, senior vice president at The Christman Co. and a Calvin alumnus who serves on the Enterprise Center’s business advisory board.

Cash looked an Enterprise Center project shortly before Thanksgiving. “It was interesting,” he said. “It was a unique combination of existing technologies. But can you protect them, because they already exist — they are not a new technology. It’s a niche product, so how deep and wide is the market for a product like this? These are the questions that came to mind.”

Lubbers said the proposal, which must be written and no longer than 10 pages, first is sent to the advisory boards. At the same time, the proposal may go to an attorney for review of the patent potential, then there may be a patent search. Financial viability and identification of possible buyers also is part of the process.

He said Calvin College currently is reviewing its policy for sharing income with the professors whose ideas are commercialized through the Enterprise Center.

“If we can incentivize the faculty, there are so many brilliant people out there,” said Lubbers, who spent more than two decades as a CPA for small businesses in Colorado. He added: “Calvin is essentially a teaching institution. Students in this whole thing are paramount. We are integrating students in the process of development.”

Calvin has averaged $2 million per year over the past 10 years in research grants, and an average 17 grants per year. The National Science Foundation and National Institutes of Health accounted for 43 of those 170 grants worth $6 million. The American Chemical Society and Research Corp. provided 19 grants and $743,526.

Lubbers said the road drives both ways, and the Enterprise Center would welcome ideas from businesses looking for research and development help to launch a product.

“We can do prototypes, do R and D. The Enterprise Center is a door that swings in and swings out. We can commercialize ideas coming out of the school and help businesses and individuals in the community if they want to commercialize ideas they have.”

He said he’s especially interested in working with people who are graduates of Calvin.

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