Patent office searching for next ‘big hit’

By Nick Fawell

Protecting faculty research that could make millions of dollars for the University is not an easy job.

The Office of Technology Management, which protects University research and innovation with patents, has named Lesley Millar as its new director pending approval from the University’s Board of Trustees.

Millar, a native of Scotland and a University MBA program graduate, takes over for Michael Fritz, who retired last year.

Millar served as interim director before being named permanent director.

Delphine Kranz, associate director of the Office of Technology Management, served on the search committee who selected Millar from a very competitive list of candidates from across the nation. Kranz said that appointing someone who had previously worked in the office and knew the campus well was a major plus.

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    “She has unique skills and grew up with our system,” Kranz said. “She understands the University culture . she’s an excellent, excellent leader.”

    The University is nationally recognized as one of the leaders in federal research funding. Last year, the campus received about $495 million from the federal government for research, Millar said. This was achieved through exhaustive efforts by University faculty to secure the funding.

    One of these professors, Nick Holonyak, professor of electrical and computer engineering, has worked extensively with Millar and said he could not be happier with her recent appointment to director.

    “Lesley understands that we’ve got to generate the ideas, generate the patents, get the licenses and return some money to the U of I,” Holonyak said. “Sometimes people may look at a woman and think, ‘we can push her around.’ You can’t push around Lesley. She’s got courage and ability. I’m for her 100 percent.”

    Like many schools nationwide, University professors are constantly coming up with new research, inventions and innovations that will serve the public. In certain cases, these ideas can make millions and even billions of dollars. Those possessing the rights to the ideas make money by licensing the technology out to those willing to pay.

    “Every university is looking for the big hit,” Millar said. “It’s looking for the Google, it’s looking for the Gatorade, it’s looking for the technology or invention that’s going to change the world and give them lots of revenues.”

    And when a university finds that big hit it can mean hundreds of millions of dollars for that institution, she said.

    Though no one expects her to find the next Google, Millar said there is always pressure to produce results with the half-billion dollars the University spends on research.

    “There is some expectation (for useful research),” Millar said. “We are part of the process of showing the state and others that useful things are being created from the money that is being spent at this University . to get stuff out for the public good.”