From Prototype to Product

Dell, Facebook, 3M, Google—with a plethora of tech companies within its city limits, Austin has more than earned its nickname of “Silicon Hills.” Now, with Dan Sharp at the helm of UT’s Office of Technology Commercialization, the University is trying to get in on the action.

After 10 years in patent law, Sharp, BS ’97, JD ’01, Life Member, returned to the Forty Acres last year as associate director of intellectual property and licensing for the Office of Commercialization—a UT entity that has filed 1,860 patent applications and brought in nearly $115 million in licensing revenue in the past decade. In January, Sharp was promoted to director of commercialization at UT.

He sat down with the Alcalde to talk about OTC’s mission on campus—and why his new position is a nerd’s dream job.


What does UT’s Office of Technology Commercialization do?

The easiest way to think about it is the office is charged with commercializing the research that is done at UT. We look at three factors: the science, the patentability, and the market potential. Generally speaking, most of the disclosures are the basis of papers, which means they are novel—so the science is rarely a problem. The next question is, “Is this patentable?” and that’s generally a very simple answer. As a former patent lawyer, I just look at it. The crux of the analysis comes down to the market potential: Can the product make money?


How does what you do affect research at UT?

If the OTC does our job well, it makes it easier for deans to recruit faculty, to retain faculty, and for faculty members to recruit graduate students. We can provide opportunities. There is a lot of momentum toward entrepreneurship. If we have a robust and successful tech-transfer program, we will recruit students and faculty that create things.


What made you decide to return to the Forty Acres after a decade in law?

I was a lawyer in a firm, and I kind of felt like a hired gun. When I was 16 and chose to be an engineer, it was to do something that would knock your socks off, something that you’d be proud of. I just decided that I wasn’t doing the things I wanted to do. I thought becoming involved with the University was more along the lines of what I had in mind. There was an opening for the associate-director position, and it just made a lot of sense. I like what I do. Really and truly, I feel like what I’m doing is significant and has an impact.


How do you like working with UT’s faculty and staff?

You don’t have people like Dr. [John] Goodenough in the private sector. Here’s somebody who still has graduate students and the guy could win a Nobel Prize. You don’t get that elsewhere; you get that at universities. To see people who care so much about their students and the work they do, it makes it really easy to work for those people. As an alumnus, it makes you really proud of this place.


What do you enjoy most about your new job?

Two things, I think. On a purely selfish basis: When I worked for a law firm, there was never a day when I was going to walk into work and say, ‘You know, this could be a day where the world really changes.’ I don’t think that my work revolutionizes, but I get to work with people who do. That’s the best reason to be here. The second part is just being a nerd. I get to learn about new inventions all the time. If you’re intellectually curious, this is an incredible job to have.

Photo courtesy Dan Sharp.


Tags: , , ,


1 Comment

Post a Comment