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USF, four other Florida schools earn high worldwide rankings for patents

The university was awarded 123 patents in 2020, a school record.
Robert Bair, a doctoral student at USF, talks with reporters in 2015 about the NEWgenerator, which converts human wastewater into clean water, fertilizer and energy. The university in 2020 received a patent for the generator, along with more than 120 other patents.
Robert Bair, a doctoral student at USF, talks with reporters in 2015 about the NEWgenerator, which converts human wastewater into clean water, fertilizer and energy. The university in 2020 received a patent for the generator, along with more than 120 other patents.
Published Jun. 16
Updated Jun. 17

The University of Florida and the University of South Florida ranked among the top 15 schools in the world to be granted U.S. utility patents last year, according to a new report.

The University of Florida ranked at No. 11 with 140 patents awarded and USF came in at No. 15 with 123 patents — a record number for the school.

The report was released Tuesday by the National Academy of Inventors and the Intellectual Property Owners Association. It was based on data from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

Three other Florida schools also appeared in the top 100. Florida International University ranked at No. 42 with 60 patents, the University of Central Florida ranked at No. 60 with 46 patents and Florida State University ranked at No. 84 with 35 patents.

“These five Florida universities are conducting groundbreaking fundamental research that impacts not only Florida but the entire world,” Alan Levine, chair of the Board of Governors’ Academic and Research Excellence Committee said in a news release from the State University System. “We are incredibly proud of the innovative work our universities do to improve the human condition and contribute to economic expansion. We are truly leading the nation.”

At the top of the list was the California state university system with 597 patents awarded last year across its 11 campuses and multiple research centers, followed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology with 383 patents and Stanford University with 229.

The process of being granted a patent takes a couple years and does not account for patents related to COVID-19 research over the last year or so, a time when labs never shut down, said Michael Bloom, associate vice president for corporate partnerships and innovation at USF.

Bloom said the record number of patents is a testament to the university’s culture of promoting innovation and breaking the stereotype of the “ivory tower” in academia. While many universities have a “publish or perish” ideology for tenure and promotion processes, Bloom said USF has also incorporated factors like creating startups, patents and other applicable uses of scholarship in their process.

At USF, patents awarded over the last year include a diagnosis and treatment method for endometriosis, a new substance to fight drug-resistant bacteria and a system that converts human wastewater into nutrients, energy and clean water.

“Our goal at the university is to engage the urban metropolitan region around us,” Bloom said. Universities, he said, can be the economic engines of cities.

Jim O’Connell, assistant vice president and head of UF Innovate, said areas like the Silicon Valley and Boston, known for innovation, are largely driven by their universities. He believes universities in Florida could do the same for the state.

But the number of patents a university is awarded, he said, is not the best measure of a university’s contributions.

“The real question is what do you do with that,” O’Connell said. “It’s great that you do this stuff but If the patent just sits on the shelf and never gets commercialized, it doesn’t even serve the basic function of a patent.”