News Column

UT Austin Names New Commercialization Director

Jan. 7, 2013

Kirk Ladendorf, Austin American-Statesman

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Dan Sharp, a veteran patent attorney who helped dispel a cloud of uncertainty last year about the tech commercialization operations of the University of Texas, has been named director of UT Austin's Office of Technology Commercialization.

Sharp, 38, was named to the post almost exactly a year after the sudden departure of his predecessor Richard Miller after UT officials insisted that Miller divest his ownership interest in three startup companies that intended to license tech discoveries from the school.

The office, which is responsible for protecting and commercializing the school's research discoveries, works with UT researchers and with investors and outside companies that want to license UT research discoveries and collaborate in future research.

"My vision for OTC is to diligently work with partners inside and outside of the university to spur innovation and bring the research performed by our world-renowned faculty to the marketplace," Sharp said in a statement. "We will continue working with faculty to identify and protect intellectual property and to market that IP. The efficient transfer of these innovations to the private sector is critical."

Sharp, who holds both law and engineering degrees from UT, formerly was associate director of intellectual property and licensing at the office. He took over leadership on an interim basis after Miller left.

"His approach to commercialization is fully aligned with our aspirations to continue to enhance the transition of technologies developed at the university," said Juan Sanchez, UT's vice president for research.

Dean Munyon, an Austin patent attorney and longtime friend of Sharp's, called the promotion "a home run for UT."

"He has the utmost ethical standards and is a top-notch guy," Munyon said.

Isaac Barchas,director of the UT-based Austin Technology Incubator, said Sharp's organization has worked closely ATI and other incubators at the school in helping to explain to faculty members how the tech licensing and commercialization process works. That collaboration, Barchas said, "is hugely helpful" to ATI as it works with faculty on new startups.

The commercialization office generally has been a low-profile operation of UT, which has a massive research budget of over $600 million a year, most of it supported by federal agencies.

But that changed last year when it was reported that Richard Miller, a well-known former California technology entrepreneur, had resigned as head of the commercialization office after Sanchez told him to divest his interest in three small startups that intended to license UT-owned patents.

Miller had joined UT in the fall of 2010 as the school's first ever "chief commercialization officer" and had begun working closely with small companies that intended to commercialize UT research. Sanchez said last January that he learned in the previous month that Miller had a financial interest in three companies -- Wibole, Graphea Inc. and Ultimor -- that intended to license university technology.

Sanchez said he told Miller that he must divest his interest in those companies in order to continue in his job. Several days after the conversation Miller resigned from his UT job.

Miller left Austin without comment and did not return numerous phone calls from the American-Statesman.

"In his heart ... Dr. Miller is still an entrepreneur and wants to work directly with startup companies in Austin and elsewhere," Sanchez said in a letter announcing the resignation.

Sharp, who worked in the commercialization office under Miller, did not comment on his predecessor.

"In the last year, we have tried to emphasize licensing patents and intellectual property protection," he told the American-Statesman. "We are not going to incorporate startup companies on our own. We are not incubating companies."

UT brought in just over $20 million in licensing revenue in the last fiscal year.

Sharp said he sees his office is designed to serve UT, its faculty and the state of Texas.

"We provide a service to the internal constituency, the external constituencies and we are supposed to serve the public good," he said. "Cooperating with people to get things done is what we want to do. That is not always easy, but by genuinely making an effort, people will recognize it and will work with you.

"People care about this place and people are exceptionally passionate about the university. You just have a lot of scrutiny and you should have. We are public stewards."

Source: (c)2013 Austin American-Statesman, Texas Distributed by MCT Information Services

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