A patent is an asset — says this Texas-based intellectual property expert. Photo via Getty Images

Seeking patent protection can offer a substantial competitive advantage to startups looking to raise capital, especially during a venture capital downturn. Besides the protection patents can provide against intellectual property theft, they are also assets that can translate into expansion opportunities and additional revenue streams. These factors are important to institutions and individuals that invest in startups, as they may reduce downside risks to their investments and help outline a growth trajectory.

As Kathi Vidal, under secretary of commerce for intellectual property and director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, said during a speech last year, “having a [patent] pending application helps secure funding, and it keeps potential competitors out of your space.”

The experience of Austin-based VoChill, a startup that created a new line of personal wine chillers, offers a case study of how filing for patent protection as early as possible can set up any startup for success, not only when seeking to raise capital, but also when working to expand its commercial relationships and distribution channels.

Filing for patents quickly gave VoChill’s founders a competitive advantage when approaching potential investors, as it demonstrated the management team’s high level of preparedness and business acumen. For investors who eventually committed capital to the startup, the filings signaled a safer bet on investing in VoChill.

There is plenty of evidence indicating that patents help attract capital and generate growth opportunities. A study conducted by professors from Harvard Business School and New York University’s Stern School of Business found that patent protection increased startups’ odds of receiving venture capital funding by 59 percent.

PitchBook data shows that startups seeking patents raise more capital than their non-patent-seeking peers. About 58 percent of venture capital went to startups with patents or with patent applications from 2011 to 2020, the research firm notes.

Patents can also help drive a startup’s expansion and grow sales. According to the National Bureau of Economic Research, or NBER, the approval of a startup’s first patent application increases its employee growth by 36 percent over the following five years. After five years, a new company with a patent increases its sales by a cumulative 80 percent more than companies that do not have a patent.

Patents can also increase a startup’s chances of obtaining distribution deals or, in the case of consumer products, partnerships with retailers. In VoChill’s experience, patent protection is a recurring theme in conversations not only with investors but also distributors and retailers.

Patents offer startups the possibility to pursue a licensing model as well. Licensing or selling the rights to a patent so that others may produce products or processes based on that patent can bring in ongoing revenue streams.

Down the line, having patent protection can lead to better exit opportunities, be it by going public or via a private divestiture.

According to the NBER, having patents more than doubles the probability that a startup is eventually listed on a stock exchange.

PitchBook data, meanwhile, shows that patent-seeking companies go public at a rate more than five times higher than non-patent-seeking companies (23.2 percent versus 4 percent).

In the case of exits via a sale of the startup, the median exit value for patent-holding companies is 154.9 percent higher than it is for companies without patents per year on average, according to PitchBook.

While the business case for seeking patent protection is clear, startups should keep a few considerations in mind when seeking to do so. Understanding time bars is crucial; for example, the United States generally allows only one year to file a patent application after an invention is publicly written about, shown, used, or otherwise disclosed, and overseas often no one-year “grace period exists.”

Still, other important predicates are finding out whether the innovation is truly new, identifying the most crucial components of a product or system, and thinking about what aspects competitors are likely to discover and copy.

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Chris Palermo is partner at Baker Botts where he specializes in intellectual property development. Lisa Pawlik is CEO of VoChill, a company that creates individual wine glass chillers.

A patent is an asset — one with a price associated with it when it comes to procuring a loan for your business. Photo via Getty Images

Rice research: What innovations can be used to borrow against?

Houston voices

For companies and leaders, patents represent important assets. They’re a marker of innovation and tech development. But patents do so much more than protect intellectual property. Firms increasingly deploy them as collateral to secure loans. Between 1995 and 2013, the number of patents pledged as loan collateral increased from about 10,000 to nearly 50,000. Forty percent of U.S. patenting firms have used patents as collateral.

However, patents are intangible assets, and their liquidity and liquidation value are difficult to assess. To evaluate an individual patent, lenders must consider the invention space to which the patent belongs. A patent’s linkage to prior inventions can provide important information for lenders, as the linkage affects the extent to which the patent under consideration may be redeployed and potentially purchased by other firms in the case of loan default.

Rice Business professor Yan Anthea Zhang examined more closely how this market operates and how both lenders and borrowers can make more informed decisions on which patents make appealing collateral. In their paper, “Which patents to use as loan collateral? The role of newness of patents' external technology linkage,” Zhang, who specializes in strategic management, and her co-authors studied the data on 107,180 U.S. semiconductor patents owned by 436 U.S. firms. The team focused on semiconductor patents because the semiconductor industry involves intensive innovation, which leads to many patent applications and grants. The market for semiconductor patents is an active and well-functioning market, given specialization in different stages of the innovation process and the growing technological market. Information on whether a patent was used as loan collateral came from the USPTO Patent Assignments Database.

Zhang and her colleagues argue that lenders prefer patents linked to prior inventions that are relatively new because these patents are riding on recent technology waves and are less likely to become obsolete. As a result, such patents are likely to remain deployable to other firms in the future. However, patents that are based upon too new prior inventions might not prove to be commercially viable and carry higher risk for lenders.

As a result of this research, Zhang and her colleagues found an inverted U-shape relationship to demonstrate the likelihood that a patent will be used as loan collateral. On one end, patents based upon the newest prior inventions, on the other, patents based upon mature prior inventions. The curve of the U-shape represents the sweet spot for patent collateral—the patents’ technological base is new enough to be relevant and competitive with other firms in its invention space, but not so new that it has yet to prove market success.

Zhang’s team also found that the impact of external linkage also varies depending on borrower attributes, especially the borrowers’ expertise in the invention space. If a borrower is a technological leader in the invention space, the market tends to give the borrower credit, and as a result, even if its patents are based upon very new prior inventions, its patents are still likely to be accepted as collateral.

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This article originally ran on Rice Business Wisdom and was based on research from Yan Anthea Zhang, the Fayez Sarofim Vanguard Professor of Management at Rice Business.

Doris Taylor from the Texas Heart Institute has been named to the National Academy of Inventors.

Houston inventor receives national recognition for leading innovation

Leading lady

A Houston inventor is being recognized for her leadership within cardiovascular regenerative medicine. Doris A. Taylor from the Texas Heart Institute has been named among the National Academy of Inventors' 54 academic inventors to the spring 2019 class of NAI Senior Members.

Taylor's work involves finding alternatives for the current practices for organ transplants, including the whole organ decellularization/recellularization technologies she developed in 2008.

"Dr. Taylor's work has revolutionized the field by making it possible to bioengineer scaffolds that effectively mimic natural organs," says Dr. Darren Woodside, Texas Heart Institute's vice president for research, in a news release. "The three U.S. patents she currently holds have spun off 28 international patents, stimulating the worldwide tissue engineering industry. Her current research team is refining these technologies and developing others, potentially revolutionizing the transplantation industry and eliminating wait lists for life-saving transplantable organs."

NAI selects its honorees by identifying their impact on the welfare of society, the release reads, and have proven success with their patents, licensing, and commercialization.

NAI Senior Members are active faculty, scientists and administrators from its Member Institutions who have demonstrated remarkable innovation producing technologies that have brought, or aspire to bring, real impact on the welfare of society. They also have proven success in patents, licensing and commercialization.

An individual's nomination for the NAI Senior Member class by its supporting institution is a distinct honor and a significant way for the organization to publicly recognize its innovators on a national level.At their host institutions, Senior Members foster a spirit of innovation, while educating and mentoring the next generation of inventors.

The new class of NAI Senior Members includes representatives from 32 institutions. Texas A&M University has two researchers in the class — Robert Balog, an associate professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, and Balakrishna Haridas, a professor of practice in the Department of Biomedical Engineering and executive director for technology commercialization and entrepreneurship for the Texas A&M Engineering Experiment Station.

This latest class of NAI Senior Members represents 32 research universities and government and non-profit research institutes. They are named inventors on over 860 issued U.S. patents. In February, two Houston inventors were named to the inaugural class of senior members.

"NAI Member Institutions support some of the most elite innovators on the horizon. With the NAI Senior Member award distinction, we are recognizing innovators that are rising stars in their fields," says Paul R. Sanberg, NAI president, in the release. "This new class is joining a prolific group of academic visionaries already defining tomorrow."

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Texas nonprofit grants $68.5M to Houston organizations for recruitment, research

Three prominent institutions in Houston will be able to snag a trio of high-profile cancer researchers thanks to $12 million in new funding from the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas.

The biggest recruitment award — $6 million — went to the University of Texas MD Anderson Center to lure researcher Xiling Shen away from the Terasaki Institute for Biomedical Innovation in Los Angeles.

Shen is chief scientific officer at the nonprofit Terasaki Institute. His lab there studies precision medicine, including treatments for cancer, from a “systems biology perspective.”

He also is co-founder and former CEO of Xilis, a Durham, North Carolina-based oncology therapy startup that raised $70 million in series A funding in 2021. Before joining the institute in 2021, the Stanford University graduate was an associate professor at Duke University in Durham.

Shen and Xilis aren’t strangers to MD Anderson.

In 2023, MD Anderson said it planned to use Xilis’ propriety MicroOrganoSphere (MOS) technology for development of novel cancer therapies.

“Our research suggests the MOS platform has the potential to offer new capabilities and to improve the efficiency of developing innovative drugs and cell therapies over current … models, which we hope will bring medicines to patients more quickly,” Shen said in an MD Anderson news release.

Here are the two other Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) awards that will bring noted cancer researchers to Houston:

  • $4 million to attract David Sarlah to Rice University from the University of Illinois, where he is an associate professor of chemistry. Sarlah’s work includes applying the principles of chemistry to creation of new cancer therapies.
  • $2 million to lure Vishnu Dileep to the Baylor College of Medicine from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where he is a postdoctoral fellow. His work includes the study of cancer genomes.

CPRIT also handed out more than $56.5 million in grants and awards to seven institutions in the Houston area. Here’s the rundown:

  • MD Anderson Cancer Center — Nearly $25.6 million
  • Baylor College of Medicine — Nearly $11.5 million
  • University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston — More than $6 million
  • Rice University — $4 million
  • University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston — More than $3.5 million
  • Methodist Hospital Research Institute — More than $3.3 million
  • University of Houston — $1.4 million

Dr. Pavan Reddy, a CPRIT scholar who is a professor at the Baylor College of Medicine and director of its Dan L Duncan Comprehensive Cancer Care Center, says the CPRIT funding “will help our investigators take chances and explore bold ideas to make innovative discoveries.”

The Houston-area funding was part of nearly $99 million in grants and awards that CPRIT recently approved.

Houston space company's lunar lander touches down on the moon in historic mission

touchdown

A private lander on Thursday made the first U.S. touchdown on the moon in more than 50 years, but managed just a weak signal back until flight controllers scrambled to gain better contact.

Despite the spotty communication, Intuitive Machines, the company that built and managed the craft, confirmed that it had landed upright. But it did not provide additional details, including whether the lander had reached its intended destination near the moon’s south pole. The company ended its live webcast soon after identifying a lone, weak signal from the lander.

“What we can confirm, without a doubt, is our equipment is on the surface of the moon,” mission director Tim Crain reported as tension built in the company’s Houston control center.

Added Intuitive Machines CEO Steve Altemus: “I know this was a nail-biter, but we are on the surface and we are transmitting. Welcome to the moon.”

Data was finally starting to stream in, according to a company announcement two hours after touchdown.

The landing put the U.S. back on the surface for the first time since NASA’s famed Apollo moonwalkers.

Intuitive Machines also became the first private business to pull off a lunar landing, a feat achieved by only five countries. Another U.S. company, Astrobotic Technology, gave it a shot last month, but never made it to the moon, and the lander crashed back to Earth. Both companies are part of a NASA-supported program to kick-start the lunar economy.

Astrobotic was among the first to relay congratulations. “An incredible achievement. We can’t wait to join you on the lunar surface in the near future,” the company said via X, formerly Twitter.

Intuitive Machines “aced the landing of a lifetime,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson tweeted.

The final few hours before touchdown were loaded with extra stress when the lander's laser navigation system failed. The company's flight control team had to press an experimental NASA laser system into action, with the lander taking an extra lap around the moon to allow time for the last-minute switch.

With this change finally in place, Odysseus descended from a moon-skimming orbit and guided itself toward the surface, aiming for a relatively flat spot among all the cliffs and craters near the south pole.

As the designated touchdown time came and went, controllers at the company's command center anxiously awaited a signal from the spacecraft some 250,000 miles (400,000 kilometers) away. After close to 15 minutes, the company announced it had received a weak signal from the lander.

Launched last week, the six-footed carbon fiber and titanium lander — towering 14 feet (4.3 meters) — carried six experiments for NASA. The space agency gave the company $118 million to build and fly the lander, part of its effort to commercialize lunar deliveries ahead of the planned return of astronauts in a few years.

Intuitive Machines' entry is the latest in a series of landing attempts by countries and private outfits looking to explore the moon and, if possible, capitalize on it. Japan scored a lunar landing last month, joining earlier triumphs by Russia, U.S., China and India.

The U.S. bowed out of the lunar landscape in 1972 after NASA's Apollo program put 12 astronauts on the surface. Astrobotic of Pittsburgh gave it a shot last month, but was derailed by a fuel leak that resulted in the lander plunging back through Earth's atmosphere and burning up.

Intuitive Machines’ target was 186 miles (300 kilometers) shy of the south pole, around 80 degrees latitude and closer to the pole than any other spacecraft has come. The site is relatively flat, but surrounded by boulders, hills, cliffs and craters that could hold frozen water, a big part of the allure. The lander was programmed to pick, in real time, the safest spot near the so-called Malapert A crater.

The solar-powered lander was intended to operate for a week, until the long lunar night.

Besides NASA’s tech and navigation experiments, Intuitive Machines sold space on the lander to Columbia Sportswear to fly its newest insulating jacket fabric; sculptor Jeff Koons for 125 mini moon figurines; and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University for a set of cameras to capture pictures of the descending lander.