Harvard’s Office of Technology Development announced yesterday that it would be licensing a portfolio of more than 50 nano- and microscale molecular fabrication methods from the Harvard laboratory of George M. Whitesides—the Flowers University Professor—to Nano-Terra, Inc., a privately held company co-founded and chaired by Whitesides.
This practice of licensing technology to companies who develop them into products is known as technology transfer.
The licensing agreement holds throughout the life of the patents and gives Nano-Terra the exclusive right to develop the technologies for use in military products, environmental testing products, and industrial products, among others.
“I think that’s one of the points of research—to get it out there and make it useful to society,” said Eric J. Heller, a professor of chemistry and physics at Harvard, who studies the theoretical science behind nanotechnology.
Harvard will receive royalties from those products developed from the licensed technologies, and the University will also receive an ownership stake in Nano-Terra.
Nano-Terra does not receive rights to use the technologies in biomedical products because Whitesides is already working with companies that specialize in the biomedical fields specifically, said Ashley Carlton, a communications representative for Nano-Terra.
“[Professor Whitesides] has a proven track record with some of his biomedical companies,” Carlton said. She added that this track record may have helped steer Harvard to further license Whiteside’s lab’s developments.
The research obtained from Whitesides’ lab will be developed through Nano-Terra’s existing relationships with large companies such as 3M and Merck KGaA, and with the U.S. government—specifically the Department of Defense. These partnerships are expected to produce products in 18 to 36 months, according to the press release.
While many of Harvard’s schools have strict rules about professors partnering with companies that they have a financial stake in, Heller said that it is possible for such relationships to be appropriate and beneficial.
“I’m not saying it’s automatically devoid of conflict of interest, I’m saying that getting the motivation of commercialization into the lab in the university is not a bad thing,” Heller said. “It’s hard to see where that would generate any built-in conflict of interests, as one of our interests is to bring these discoveries to the public.”
Whitesides was traveling out of the country and could not be reached for comment yesterday. Isaac T. Kohlberg, whom the University appointed in November 2004 to the position of associate provost and chief technology development officer in order to enhance tech transfer efforts, was also unavailable for comment when contacted yesterday.
—Staff writer Aditi Balakrishna can be reached at email@example.com.