Uniservices: commercial outcome


When electrical engineers at The University of Auckland made electricity jump over a gap by intersecting two magnetic fields they achieved what had eluded others for centuries and made it a commercially viable process. With a lot of creativity and innovation and the backing of the University’s commercialisation company, Auckland UniServices Limited, their inventions for Induction Power Transfer (IPT) were protected in over 30 different patent families, and then for more than a decade have been progressively applied to an ever-increasing range of industrial and consumer products.

This reflects the strong focus the University and UniServices have on commercialising research results. In a recent US survey the University ranked second only to the Colorado School of Mines for the percentage of its research which is sourced commercially. The survey by the North American Association of University of Technology Managers measured how much commercial work was being carried out at universities. In North America the average is 7 percent; at The University of Auckland it is 42 percent.

UniServices is like a matchmaker – it finds ways to marry up the University’s research and innovation with companies in New Zealand and around the globe that are looking for new ideas, expertise and solutions. “We run UniServices as a business,” says former CEO, Dr Peter Lee. “We provide a full, independent commercialisation service from contract research, licensing, spinout incubation and financing.”

UniServices works alongside academic staff to secure patents, find business partners, set up companies and negotiate licence agreements. In 2011 Qualcomm, a world-leading provider of wireless technology and services bought the University’s IPT technology for the wireless charging of electric vehicles. It was undoubtedly the most significant technology transfer deal ever achieved by a New Zealand university. “We can look back with pride and pleasure at how our two organisations worked diligently to achieve a wireless power win-win-win solution,” says Andrew Gilbert, the executive Vice-President of Qualcomm Europe Inc.

Since 2005 UniServices has started 15 new companies and issued more than ten times that many licences to existing companies. Examples include PowerByProxi, which is applying IPT technology to deliver wireless power solutions across a variety of lower power applications, and Neuren Pharmaceuticals, a biopharmaceutical company developing drugs for brain injury and neurodegeneration. Last year UniServices generated $135 million in revenue (some $46 million from overseas).

UniServices employs 700 staff who work with New Zealand businesses as well as with projects ranging from geothermal prospecting in Rwanda to applying educational tools in Saudi Arabia. New opportunities include working with Academy Award winner Dr Mark Sagar at the University’s Laboratory for Animate Technologies who is taking computer animation to a new level: “Imagine a machine that can express what is on its mind.” His laboratory aims to create an experience that would allow visitors to engage with technology such as an information panel that appears conscious, emotive and thinking. This would be valuable for education, advertising, and the entertainment industry and UniServices will be part of the process to link the research to the companies that could use it.

“Research is not only good for business,” concludes Peter Lee, “but research is a good business.”



This article is reprinted from AucklandNow Issue 12, April 2013.

Baby X at TEDxAuckland 2013