Both Rice University and the University of Houston were recognized recently on national rankings. Photo via Getty Images

2 Houston universities score big for patents, MBA programs

academic standouts

Two new rankings have put the University of Houston and Rice University in the academic limelight.

UH ranks 60th on the National Academy of Inventors’ list of the top 100 universities for utility patents granted last year in the U.S. Meanwhile, Rice has moved up dramatically on Bloomberg Businessweek’s annual list of the top full-time MBA programs.

In 2022, UH received 32 utility patents. The university explains that utility patents are among the world’s most valuable assets because they give inventors exclusive commercial rights for producing and using their technology.

UH joins the University of Texas (No. 3), Texas A&M University (No. 37), Texas Tech University (tie for No. 75), and Baylor University (tie for No. 75) as the only Texas schools on the patent list.

“This recognition further underscores our commitment to innovation and the impactful research taking place at UH,” says Ramanan Krishnamoorti, the university’s vice president of energy and innovation. “It is a testament to the dedication and ingenuity of our faculty, researchers, and students who continue to push the boundaries of knowledge and drive positive change in our world through their hard work and inventive contributions.”

Rice also is sharing in recent academic accolades.

Rice’s Jones Graduate School of Business climbed 10 spots — to No. 19 — in Bloomberg Businessweek’s 2023-24 ranking of full-time MBA programs. Rice holds the No. 1 spot among Texas programs.

The Jones School gained ground in the ranking’s learning, networking, diversity, and entrepreneurship categories.

“Rising in the rankings for networking and diversity shows how Rice’s faculty and staff are dedicated to creating an entire environment and ecosystem that benefits our students, not just what happens inside the classroom,” says Peter Rodriguez, the business dean at Rice. “I am especially proud of these metrics that highlight Rice’s ability to bring people together.”

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

How patents can provide additional revenue streams for Houston innovators

GUEST COLUMN

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 new ranking looks at the Houston companies with the most patents granted in 2022. Photo via Getty Images

These are the Houston companies with the most patents granted last year

by the numbers

Two major players in Houston’s energy industry are also major players in the patent arena.

A new ranking from the analytics arm of patent law firm Harrity & Harrity puts Saudi Aramco, whose North American headquarters is in Houston, and Halliburton, whose global headquarters is in Houston, puts them in a tie for the number of U.S. patents with 963 patents received in 2022. Saudi Aramco and Halliburton now share the title of Houston’s patent king.

Saudi Aramco saw a 12 percent rise in patents granted in 2022 compared with 2021, according to Harrity & Harrity’s Patent 300 report, while Halliburton experienced a 5 percent jump. Each company tied for 44th place among the top 300 U.S. patient recipients in 2022.

According to the report, Samsung Electronics (8,513 patents) knocked IBM off its longtime pedestal as the No. 1 recipient of U.S. patents. IBM (4,743 patents) now holds the No. 2 position.

Many of Aramco’s U.S. patents come from its R&D centers in Houston, Boston, and Detroit. The Houston R&D hub opened in 2014 and underwent an expansion three years later.

Aramco, a Saudi Arabia-based supplier of oil and natural gas, also generates patents through academic partnerships, such as the one it established last year with Rice University’s Carbon Hub. Aramco has committed $10 million over five years to the carbon initiative.

“While patents are a leading indicator of innovation, the ultimate goal is to create value through the development of solutions that help to address a particular need,” Aramco says. “Such results are often only possible with significant upfront investments, and patents make it possible to recoup these costs and potentially generate additional revenue through commercialization.”

Last year, Aramco boasted that it ranked first in the oil and gas industry for U.S. patents (864) granted in 2021. Until 2011, Aramco had received only 100 U.S. patents over a 78-year span.

“Many of the patents are for innovations Aramco uses itself for competitive advantage, although they can also be licensed to others, creating extra value for the company,” Jamil Bagawi, then the company’s chief engineer, wrote in 2021.

Halliburton also has ramped up its patenting efforts in recent years.

According to Houston law firm Yetter Coleman, those efforts kicked into high gear after Halliburton lost a fracking patent lawsuit to Tomball-based BJ Services, which is now out of business. In 2003, a Houston jury awarded $98 million in damages to BJ in the case, and Halliburton had to stop selling the system that allegedly infringed on BJ’s patent.

In the five years before the verdict, Halliburton averaged 142 patent awards a year, according to Yetter Coleman. The law firm reported in 2013 that Halliburton subsequently averaged 234 patents a year.

Today, of course, Halliburton has far exceeded those numbers. And it vigorously defends its growing patent portfolio. In September 2022, for instance, three subsidiaries of the oilfield services giant filed two lawsuits against Houston-based rival U.S. Well Services alleging infringement of 14 Halliburton patents.

IAM, a website that reports about the intellectual property industry, noted that when Halliburton sued U.S. Well Services, “IP professionals in the oil and gas industry may well have reached for the popcorn. Battles of this magnitude rarely break out in their slice of the patent world.”

Halliburton and Aramco may be the goliaths in Houston’s patent world, but they’re not the only local organizations to appear on the Patent 300 list for 2022. Other Houston-area companies that made the cut are:

  • Spring-based Hewlett Packard Enterprise, No. 84. The tech company received 511 U.S. patents in 2022, down 4 percent from the previous year.
  • Houston-based SLB (Schlumberger), No. 117. The oilfield services company received 372 U.S. patents in 2022, down 14 percent from the previous year.
  • Houston-based Baker Hughes, No. 123. The oilfield services company received 350 U.S. patents in 2022, down 11 percent from the previous year.
  • ExxonMobil, No. 156. The oil and gas company received 281 U.S. patents in 2022, down 8 percent from the previous year. It is in the process of moving its headquarters from Irving to Spring.
  • United Imaging Healthcare, No. 253. The Chinese healthcare equipment company, whose North American headquarters is in Houston, received 175 U.S. patents in 2022, up 31 percent from the previous year.
UH has ranked among the world's top 100 patent-receiving universities for the past six years. Photo courtesy of University of Houston

Houston university claims spot on top 100 institutions for patents

UH ranked

The University of Houston ranks among the world's top invention factories.

A new list from the Intellectual Property Owners Association and the National Academy of Inventors puts UH in a tie for 79th place among the 100 universities around the world that received the most U.S. utility patents in 2020. UH inventors earned 37 utility patents last year.

The only other Texas schools on the list are the University of Texas at Austin (ranked fourth with 207 patents) and Texas A&M University in College Station (tied for 70th place with 41 patents). The University of California leads the list (597 patents).

UH has ranked among the world's top 100 patent-receiving universities for the past six years. Utility patents cover new or improved processes, products, or machines. During the federal government's 2020 budget year, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office granted 360,784 utility patents. They're the most common kinds of patents in the U.S.

"The University of Houston is making critical contributions to science and engineering and hence to society, driven by our overarching goal to improve the quality of life. This ranking reflects our dedication to addressing the most pressing problems faced by society, including energy technology and medical care," Amr Elnashai, vice president and vice chancellor for research and technology transfer at UH, says in a news release.

Another testament to UH's patent prowess: Three researchers from the Cullen College of Engineering researchers are senior members of the National Academy of Investors for 2021. They are professors Hien Nguyen, Jeffrey Rimer, and Gangbing Song.

"Being affiliated with this prestigious organization will afford new opportunities for innovation and expanded research activities by engaging with a global network of highly accomplished inventors," Rimer says.

UH says a key to its success in moving technology from the lab to the marketplace is the UH Technology Bridge. With 30,000 square feet of incubator space and over 700,000 square feet of space for laboratories, pilot-scale facilities, and light manufacturing, the Technology Bridge houses 28 startups.

Plans for the Technology Bridge include expanding the 75-acre park into core districts, along with adding build-to-suit facilities. About 35 acres of the Bridge have been developed. So far, the university has invested more than $75 million in the Bridge.

"Companies taking products from idea to commercialization need expertise ranging from research to licensing to startup formation and operation," Elnashai said of the Bridge. "They need interns in specialized fields, technical and startup consultants, and they often need laboratories with large amounts of space for experimentation, to produce a prototype or to scale their operations. We have all of this to offer."

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Houston space tech company reaches major milestone for engine technology

fired up

A Houston company that's creating the next generation of space exploration technology is celebrating a new milestone of one of its technologies.

Intuitive Machines reports that its VR900 completed a full-duration hot-fire test, qualifying it for its IM-2 lunar mission. With the qualification, the company says its VR3500, an engine designed for larger cargo class landers, also advances in development.

The engine technology is designed, 3D-printed, and tested all at Intuitive Machines' Houston facility, which opened in the Houston Spaceport last year.

Intuitive Machines CEO Steve Altemus says in a news release that the company's goal was to lead the way in scalable deep space engines as the industry heads toward lunar missions.

“This validated engine design meets current mission demand and paves the way for our VR3500 engine for cargo delivery such as lunar terrain vehicles, human spaceflight cargo resupply, and other infrastructure delivery," Altemus continues. "We believe we’re in a prime position to build on our successful development and apply that technology toward current contracts and future lunar requirements for infrastructure delivery.”

Earlier this year, Intuitive Machines was one of one of three companies selected for a $30 million NASA contract for the initial phase of developing a rover for U.S. astronauts to traverse the moon’s surface.

Another Houston company has seen success with its engine testing. In March, Venus Aerospace announced that it's successfully ran the first long-duration engine test of their Rotating Detonation Rocket Engine in partnership with Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA.

Houston is the most stressed out city in Texas, report finds

deep breaths

Stress is an unavoidable part of life, but a new report by WalletHub shows Houston residents are far more stressed out than any other city in Texas.

Houston ranked No. 18 out of 182 of the largest U.S. cities based on work, financial, family-related, and health and safety stress, according to WalletHub's "Most & Least Stressed Cities in America (2024)" report. 39 relevant metrics were considered in the report, including each city's job security, the share of households behind on bills within the last 12 months, divorce rates, crime rates, among others.

Houston was ranked the most stressed out city in Texas, but it's still far less stressed than many other U.S. cities. Cleveland, Ohio took first place as the most stressed city in America, followed by Detroit, Michigan (No. 2), Baltimore, Maryland (No. 3), Memphis, Tennessee (No. 4), and Gulfport, Mississippi (No. 5).

Out of the four main categories, Houstonians are struggling the most with work-related stress, ranking No. 13 nationally. The report found Houston has the No. 1 highest traffic congestion rate out of all cities in the report. But at least Houston drivers are solidly average, as maintained by a separate Forbes study comparing the worst drivers in America.

Houston workers can rejoice that they live in a city with a generally high level of guaranteed employment, as the city ranked No. 151 in the job security comparison. The city ranked No. 16 nationwide in the metric for the highest average weekly hours worked.

Houston fared best in the financial stress category, coming in at No. 72 nationally, showing that Houstonians aren't as worried about pinching pennies when it comes to maintaining a good quality of life. The city ranked No. 39 in the comparison of highest poverty rates.

Here's how WalletHub quantified Houston's stress levels:

  • No. 17 – Health and safety stress rank (overall)
  • No. 36 – Family stress rank (overall)
  • No. 63 – Unemployment rates
  • No. 81 – Percentage of adults in fair/poor health
  • No. 95 – Divorce rate
  • No. 96 – Percentage of adults with inadequate sleep

WalletHub analyst Cassandra Happe said in the report that living in particularly arduous cities can play a big role in how stressed a person is, especially when considering uncontrollable circumstances like family problems or work-related issues.

"Cities with high crime rates, weak economies, less effective public health and congested transportation systems naturally lead to elevated stress levels for residents," Happe said.

Happe advised that residents considering a move to a place like Houston should consider how the city's quality of life will impact their mental health, not just their financial wellbeing.

Other Texas cities that ranked among the top 100 most stressed cities in the U.S. are:

  • No. 20 – San Antonio
  • No. 38 – Laredo
  • No. 41 – Dallas
  • No. 47 – Corpus Christi
  • No. 61 – El Paso
  • No. 68 – Fort Worth
  • No. 71 – Brownsville
  • No. 75 – Arlington
  • No. 78 – Grand Prairie
  • No. 88 – Garland
The full report and its methodology can be found on wallethub.com

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Houston cardiac health startup raises $43 million series B to grow AI-backed platform

money moves

A Houston-based tech company that has a product line of software solutions for cardiac health has raised funding.

Octagos Health, the parent company of Atlas AI — a software platform for cardiac devices like pacemakers, defibrillators, ambulatory monitors and consumer wearables — has announced a $43 million series B raise that will bring their technology to many more hearts.

Morgan Stanley Investment Capital led the investment, which also included funds from Mucker Capital and other continuing strategic investors. The goal of the raise is to supply funds to accelerate Atlas AI’s growth across the United States and to expand into other areas of care, including ambulatory monitors, consumer wearables, and sleep.

"This investment will enable us to accelerate enhancements to our platform, in addition to scaling our commercial team and operations. We are currently the only company that helps cardiology practices migrate their historical data from legacy software providers and fully integrates with any EHR (exertion heart rate) system. We do this while enabling customized reporting supported by patient and practice decision-support analytics," says Eric Olsen, COO of Octagos Health, in a press release.

Octagos Health was founded by a team of healthcare pros including CEO Shanti Bansal, a cardiologist and founder of Houston Heart Rhythm, an atrial fibrillation center. The goal was to find a new way to deal with the massive amount of data that clinicians encounter each day in a way that combines software and the work of human doctors.

According to the Octagos Health website, “Our solution allows clinicians to focus on other ways of delivering meaningful healthcare and more efficiently manage their remotely monitored patients.”

It works thanks to customizable reporting features that allow patients’ healthcare teams to get help while monitoring them, but to do it precisely as they would if they were crunching numbers themselves.

"We are excited to partner with Octagos Health and support their vision of transforming cardiac care," says Melissa Daniels, managing director of Morgan Stanley Expansion Capital. "Octagos Health has demonstrated exceptional growth and innovation in a critical area of healthcare. We believe their platform and vertically integrated software and services significantly improve patient care and streamline cardiac monitoring processes for healthcare providers."

Will Hsu, co-founder and partner of Mucker Capital, agrees. “Octagos Health is poised for scale – industry leading gross margins, a very sticky product that doctors and clinical staff love, and a market ready for disruption with artificial intelligence. This is the new wave for diagnostic care,” he says. And with this raise, it will be available to even more clinicians and patients across the country.