Professional Development

In 2016, Penn had its biggest year ever for patents. Here are some of its faculty inventors

University patents shouldn't just be a statistic, says Penn tech transfer heads John Swartley and Laurie Actman. There are people behind the inventions and you should know them.

Awards at the Penn Center for Innovation's patent celebration, May 2017.

(Courtesy photo)

This is a guest post by Penn's John Swartley and Laurie Actman.

Last week the Penn Center for Innovation (PCI) hosted its first inaugural celebration honoring over 100 faculty at Penn whose inspired work and scientific genius resulted in an issued patent during the preceding year, the largest number of patents awarded at Penn in a single year. The celebration was a sincere thank you to our faculty inventors for their time and effort spent working with us to protect and commercialize their research. The event also serves as a very important reminder to the Penn and Philadelphia communities that our faculty inventors are a vital component and contributor to our university and citywide innovation ecosystem.

PCI is making important progress in helping to facilitate and lead entrepreneurship and technology commercialization at Penn, in Greater Philadelphia and beyond as evidenced by a recent report by the Milken Institute, which ranked Penn as the sixth-best university nationally for technology transfer activities, up from No. 12 on the same list just ten years ago. At PCI we are deeply committed to celebrating and highlighting how the virtuous cycle of discovery through commercialization helps to translate inventions, patents and related technology into products and services that produce real economic and social impact.

The individual stories behind the patents help to illustrate why all this time and effort spent protecting intellectual property and identifying commercial partners and outlets, in all its time consuming complexity, is having a real impact.

Some examples from our recent celebration program:

  • John Lambris, the Dr. Ralph and Sallie Weaver professor of research medicine in Penn’s Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine

Lambris conducted groundbreaking work that led to a patent in the last year for a compound he discovered that we hope may eventually help in the treatment of serious medical conditions such as asthma, lupus and arthritis among other conditions. A pharmaceutical company has already licensed the patent and is currently developing therapeutic solutions based on this technology that can target those diseases.

Kumar is a prolific inventor and entrepreneur in his own right, led trailblazing research in the area of autonomous robotics that was awarded two patents that are now core intellectual property for Exyn Technologies, one of the many robotics startups emerging out of the GRASP Lab at the Pennovation Center. Exyn is adapting this pioneering autonomous robotic navigation technology for several exciting commercial purposes including navigation and obstacle avoidance in crowded, GPS-denied environments and as a way to bring artificial intelligence and autonomy to the flying robot industry.


The list of discoveries honored at our recent event is as diverse as Penn itself across many disciplines and technology fields and represents an inspiring reflection of the interdisciplinary community of research and discovery underway at Penn. It was really terrific to take a moment with our inventors to pause and celebrate invention and commercialization in this way as university patents shouldn’t just be a statistic that is reported annually via trade organizations or industry report rankings.

PCI is delighted to support Penn as a university that celebrates its faculty inventors, but more importantly also values the translation of all that important research into product applications and public benefit. We seek to ensure that inventor stories like the ones above do not become lost in the noise of our busy lives, but instead become commonplace and common knowledge among the innovator community as a way to further celebrate and embrace the important role that university inventors play in our innovation ecosystem.

People: Vijay Kumar
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