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

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-based lunar mission's rocky landing and what it means for America's return to the moon

houston, we have a problem

A private U.S. lunar lander tipped over at touchdown and ended up on its side near the moon’s south pole, hampering communications, company officials said Friday.

Intuitive Machines initially believed its six-footed lander, Odysseus, was upright after Thursday's touchdown. But CEO Steve Altemus said Friday the craft “caught a foot in the surface," falling onto its side and, quite possibly, leaning against a rock. He said it was coming in too fast and may have snapped a leg.

“So far, we have quite a bit of operational capability even though we’re tipped over," he told reporters.

But some antennas were pointed toward the surface, limiting flight controllers' ability to get data down, Altemus said. The antennas were stationed high on the 14-foot (4.3-meter) lander to facilitate communications at the hilly, cratered and shadowed south polar region.

Odysseus — the first U.S. lander in more than 50 years — is thought to be within a few miles (kilometers) of its intended landing site near the Malapert A crater, less than 200 miles (300 kilometers) from the south pole. NASA, the main customer, wanted to get as close as possible to the pole to scout out the area before astronauts show up later this decade.

NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter will attempt to pinpoint the lander's location, as it flies overhead this weekend.

With Thursday’s touchdown, Intuitive Machines became the first private business to pull off a moon landing, a feat previously achieved by only five countries. Japan was the latest country to score a landing, but its lander also ended up on its side last month.

Odysseus' mission was sponsored in large part by NASA, whose experiments were on board. NASA paid $118 million for the delivery under a program meant to jump-start the lunar economy.

One of the NASA experiments was pressed into service when the lander's navigation system did not kick in. Intuitive Machines caught the problem in advance when it tried to use its lasers to improve the lander's orbit. Otherwise, flight controllers would not have discovered the failure until it was too late, just five minutes before touchdown.

“Serendipity is absolutely the right word,” mission director Tim Crain said.

It turns out that a switch was not flipped before flight, preventing the system's activation in space.

Launched last week from Florida, Odysseus took an extra lap around the moon Thursday to allow time for the last-minute switch to NASA's laser system, which saved the day, officials noted.

Another experiment, a cube with four cameras, was supposed to pop off 30 seconds before touchdown to capture pictures of Odysseus’ landing. But Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s EagleCam was deliberately powered off during the final descent because of the navigation switch and stayed attached to the lander.

Embry-Riddle's Troy Henderson said his team will try to release EagleCam in the coming days, so it can photograph the lander from roughly 26 feet (8 meters) away.

"Getting that final picture of the lander on the surface is still an incredibly important task for us,” Henderson told The Associated Press.

Intuitive Machines anticipates just another week of operations on the moon for the solar-powered lander — nine or 10 days at most — before lunar nightfall hits.

The company was the second business to aim for the moon under NASA's commercial lunar services program. Last month, Pittsburgh's Astrobotic Technology gave it a shot, but a fuel leak on the lander cut the mission short and the craft ended up crashing back to Earth.

Until Thursday, the U.S. had not landed on the moon since Apollo 17's Gene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt closed out NASA's famed moon-landing program in December 1972. NASA's new effort to return astronauts to the moon is named Artemis after Apollo's mythological twin sister. The first Artemis crew landing is planned for 2026 at the earliest.

3 female Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

Editor's note: Welcome to another Monday edition of Innovators to Know. Today I'm introducing you to three Houstonians to read up about — three individuals behind recent innovation and startup news stories in Houston as reported by InnovationMap. Learn more about them and their recent news below by clicking on each article.

Emma Konet, co-founder and CTO of Tierra Climate

Emma Konet, co-founder and CTO of Tierra Climate, joins the Houston Innovators Podcast. Photo via LinkedIn

If the energy transition is going to be successful, the energy storage space needs to be equipped to support both the increased volume of energy needed and new energies. And Emma Konet and her software company, Tierra Climate, are targeting one part of the equation: the market.

"To me, it's very clear that we need to build a lot of energy storage in order to transition the grid," Konet says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. "The problems that I saw were really on the market side of things." Read more.

Cindy Taff, CEO of Sage Geosystems

Houston-based Sage Geosystems announced the first close of $17 million round led by Chesapeake Energy Corp. Photo courtesy of Sage

A Houston geothermal startup has announced the close of its series A round of funding.

Houston-based Sage Geosystems announced the first close of $17 million round led by Chesapeake Energy Corp. The proceeds aim to fund its first commercial geopressured geothermal system facility, which will be built in Texas in Q4 of 2024. According to the company, the facility will be the first of its kind.

“The first close of our Series A funding and our commercial facility are significant milestones in our mission to make geopressured geothermal system technologies a reality,” Cindy Taff, CEO of Sage Geosystems, says. Read more.

Clemmie Martin, chief of staff at The Cannon

With seven locations across the Houston area, The Cannon's digital technology allows its members a streamlined connection. Photo courtesy of The Cannon

After collaborating over the years, The Cannon has acquired a Houston startup's digital platform technology to become a "physical-digital hybrid" community.

Village Insights, a Houston startup, worked with The Cannon to create and launch its digital community platform Cannon Connect. Now, The Cannon has officially acquired the business. The terms of the deal were not disclosed.

“The integration of a world-class onsite member experience and Cannon Connect’s superior virtual resource network creates a seamless, streamlined environment for member organizations,” Clemmie Martin, The Cannon’s newly appointed chief of staff, says in the release. “Cannon Connect and this acquisition have paved new pathways to access and success for all.” Read more.

Texas organization grants $68.5M to Houston institutions 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.