Getting Out of the Ivory Tower

Technology transfer helps bring University inventions to market.

Jose Hernandez-Rebollar and the AcceleGlove, which uses sensors, accelerometers, and algorithms to translate the hand motions of American Sign Language or other hand- and gesture-based languages into oral or written language.

Doug Benton/Fisheye Photography

Jose Hernandez-Rebollar, DSci ’05, graduate of the doctoral program in computer engineering and now visiting assistant professor of engineering, is fielding calls from rehabilitation centers and investors interested in his AcceleGlove. The device uses sensors, accelerometers, and algorithms to translate the hand motions of American Sign Language or other hand- and gesture-based languages into oral or written language. It should prove useful in hospitals and other settings in which understanding speakers of ASL is necessary, as well as in ASL training. The March 2005 issue of Reader’s Digest pegs it as one of 10 “inventions that will rock your world.”

Akbar Montaser, professor of chemistry, recently met with a company from France and another from Nebraska about his innovative designs of the nebulizer devices that spray samples of material into the hot plasma used in inductively coupled plasma mass spectroscopy, a major tool in the analysis of the chemical composition of samples. Montaser already has a patent on his DIHEN design and has received royalties from a license agreement for that invention with a glass nebulizer manufacturing company. These royalties have been devoted to new research on nebulization at GW. His more recent advances involve the development of “smart” nebulizers that monitor and control the quality of the aerosol spray for potential applications in a variety of areas, including chemical analysis, pharmacology, and the automobile industry.

Rajat Mittal, associate professor of engineering and applied science and specialist in fluid dynamics, has developed a new design for the fins on autonomous underwater vehicles used in military applications that allow them to move more efficiently and stay at work longer. Mittal’s expertise in motion through water also was sought after by the U.S. Olympic swim teams.

Jason Zara, assistant professor of engineering and applied science, has been talking to companies about his scanning mirror design, which promises to improve medical imaging to the point that biopsies may no longer be required in order to diagnose certain cancers. Because it is small in size but permits large scanning angles, the amplified piezoelectric bimorph scanning mirror has the potential to improve detection of tumors close to the surface in places such as the eye, skin, and bladder.

These and other GW professors are benefiting from an experiment aimed at pushing the University forward in the area of technology transfer. Associate Vice President for Graduate Studies and Academic Affairs Carol Sigelman, in collaboration with Associate General Counsel Linda Schutjer, contracted in January 2004 with a trio of consultants from Deloitte and Touche to introduce a new approach to technology transfer that is being tested on the nonmedical side of the University. The Deloitte team, which has since gone independent as TreMonti Consulting, brings to GW expertise in evaluating, marketing, and licensing new technologies.

The TreMonti team began by reaching out into science and engineering departments to introduce themselves to the faculty, identify promising research discoveries, help inventors disclose them properly to the University, and provide GW with a preliminary evaluation of them.

Sigelman formed an intellectual property review committee to discuss emerging technologies on a monthly basis and recommend what should be done with them. The first members included Sigelman and Schutjer, engineering professor Charles Garris, research engineering professor David Nagel, management science associate professor Elias G. Carayannis, and Diana Lipscomb, the associate dean for faculty and research of the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences. In addition, GW alumni with relevant experience, among them Alan Nadel, BS ’71, JD ’76, a partner with the law firm Akin Gump, and Rishi Nangia, BA ’97, BS ’97, of Winston & Strawn, have generously donated their time to the cause, as have volunteers Todd Juneau of Juneau Partners and Richard Spivack of NIST.

When the review process suggests that an invention is likely to have commercial potential, the TreMonti team markets it to appropriate companies and shepherds it toward either a licensing agreement or a sponsored research agreement to allow its further development at GW. Inventions are also listed at GW’s New Technologies web site,, which already is attracting inquiries.

The result in only a year’s time has been a surge of invention disclosures, patent filings, and interactions with companies—and a good deal of buzz about technology transfer.

The AcceleGlove was one technology incorporated this spring into the business school’s New Ventures Initiation course, taught by Carayannis. A student team in the course developed a business plan laying out how to commercialize the AcceleGlove. Another team developed a plan for a blood pressure monitoring device, which was a product presented to them by students in an engineering design course taught by Hernandez-Rebollar. Both teams assessed whether startup companies could be built around the two products. The students presented their business plans to two panels of venture capitalists, angel investors, and other expert service providers and received valuable guidance as well as an expression of interest and follow-up by at least one risk capital firm.

Simon Berkovich, professor of engineering and applied science, was invited to present his invention at an MIT Enterprise Forum showcasing inventions developed at Washington area universities. He was pleased to have TreMonti join him in a meeting with SNAPP Technologies Corp., a company now evaluating his computer routing system based on REBUS architecture as a possible enhancement of its own technology, designed to serve as a software development platform and to enable high-speed grid computing. TreMonti representatives were very instrumental in the negotiations, according to Berkovich. “I could hardly understand 50 percent of their discussion, but without their input it would have been much more difficult to get to an agreement.”

Similarly, Zara notes that “it has been very nice to have someone following up with the companies and handling things like nondisclosure agreements. It frees me up to just talk to people about the science.”

Meanwhile, TreMonti is helping Montaser negotiate a license agreement with a French company for his new demountable DIHEN, and Mittal is talking to a company that develops autonomous vehicles.

Rajat Mittal, a specialist in fluid dynamics, is using his expertise to assist the U.S. Olympic swim teams by creating computer images of swimmers in motion. His work has been written about extensively in publications such as The Wall Street Journal and The New Yorker. Mittal also has developed a new design for the fins of autonomous underwater vehicles used in military applications.

Chun-Ting Ma and James Hahn, Institute for Computer Graphics

Many developments are occurring in the Medical Center as well. Pat Berg of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology has a patent on a gene she cloned, a gene that appears to be activated in many types of cancer and might be a key to preventing or treating cancer if it could be shut down.

Steven Patierno, professor of pharmacology, genetics, and urology, and executive director of the GW Cancer institute, along with GW and former urology chair Michael Manyak, holds 11 patents relating to his research. The patents, licenced to a pharmaceutical company, involve therapy and administration of an anticancer protein that provides for new methods of prostate and lung cancer diagnosis, treatment, and gene therapy. Having obtained the first of these patents in 1995, “This is a prime example of a patent portfolio developed at the University that translates into commercial development,” he says.

Alumni also are helping GW’s technology transfer efforts. April 20 marked the first meeting of the Entrepreneurs Roundtable, a group of faculty members and alumni with interests in technology transfer. Spearheaded by Tejbir Singh Phool, a member of the GW Alumni Association Board of Directors, the roundtable’s aim is to mobilize faculty members and alumni to foster entrepreneurship among GW’s students and faculty. Concepts such as a speaker series, events to showcase new inventions to potential investors, and mechanisms for involving faculty, alumni, and students in advising inventors on how to commercialize their technologies are being discussed.

Representatives of the School of Engineering and Applied Science and the School of Business are meeting in parallel to discuss how to further develop and integrate their course offerings in the entrepreneurship area and how best to use the available expertise to incubate promising inventions.

“Our technology transfer successes can only mount from here,” Sigelman says. “There are many exciting discoveries on both the medical and non-medical sides of the University, and now that Anne Hirshfield is in place as the associate vice president for health research, compliance, and technology transfer, medical-side technology transfer activity will only increase. The goal is to provide the best support we can to GW inventors and to see to it that the products of GW’s most inventive minds get out of the ivory tower and into the marketplace where they can do the world some good.”

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© 2005 The George Washington University
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