The Power of Patents


By Laurie Paolicelli

The United States patent system was created to promote innovation and economic growth, and provides exclusivity for those who expend resources and capital in an effort to develop and provide novel products and services.

Innovate Carolina is the University of North Carolina initiative for innovation and entrepreneurship that helps faculty, students, and staff at UNC-Chapel Hill move more ideas into the world faster in order to solve the world’s problems and strengthen the economy. 

Helping inventors evaluate and pursue patents falls under Innovate Carolina and it is an interesting subject in today’s changing world.

Trivia about Patents  

  1. Microsoft has a patent for opening a new window when you click a hyperlink that expires in 2021 – Source
  2.  Amazon holds a patent on 1-click buying; Apple pays them licensing fees – Source
  3.  In 1945, a radar engineer named Percy Spencer, while working at Ratheon, stepped in front of a magnetron, a device that powers radars. He noticed a chocolate bar in his pocket had melted. Later that year, he filed a patent for the first microwave oven. – Source
  4. The average patent is worth over $500,000, according to the Brookings study with recent patent sales from Eastman Kodak, Motorola, Nortel, and Nokia, ranging from $477,000 to $760,000 per patent, and even single patents from relatively unknown companies selling online for $1 million.
  5. Abraham Lincoln Is the Only President Ever to Have a Patent. Lincoln’s patent, No. 6,469, was granted on May 22, 1849, for a device for “Buoying Vessels Over Shoals.” Source


G1 Therapeutics Rings the Nasdaq Closing Bell.

Innovate Carolina and Patents

Patent applications at UNC are handled under Innovate Carolina which oversees patents for the Chapel Hill campus with some grants allowing broader representation of system. The University’s patents take their root (for the most part) in the areas of life sciences, therapeutics, the schools of medicine and pharmacy, as well as computer science and gaming.

Just a sampling of patents that have sprung from UNC:

  • G1 Therapeutics: Innovative therapies that improve the lives of those affected by cancer; rapidly advancing two novel therapies for people living with cancer.
  • Novan: A biotechnology company that translates the scientifically-proven power of nitric oxide into innovative, first-in-class therapies.
  • Asklepios BioPharmaceutical (AskBio): Clinical pipeline covers a broad range of genetic diseases targeting central nervous system, muscle, and heart tissues. 
  • Impulsonic, a software utility that lets developers add binaural 3D audio to their 3D environments and VR experiences. Phonon 3D’s binaural 3D audio algorithm complements the head tracking information from VR HMDs to enhance the 3D audio experience. Valve acquired Impulsonicin 2017. 

Read more here:

So how does one get a patent?

First, you must have something novel or new, not a tree or a porch.

In 2013, the United States changed from first to invent to first to file, which gives you right to exclude the claims of others. The first inventor to file (FITF) provision of the America Invents Act transitions the U.S. to a first-inventor-to-file system from a first-to-invent system and became effective on March 16, 2013.

Today it is imperative that the U.S. first to file laws be interpreted to mean file first before you disclose anything, demonstrate your invention publicly, or offer it for sale. Getting a patent in the United States can run you $25,000 to $30,000 to start.

Judith Cone, Vice Chancellor for Innovation, Entrepreneurship and Economic Development, UNC Chapel Hill.


Currently Taking Place at UNC-Chapel Hill

“Fiscal year metrics ending in June, shows 200 active UNC-affiliated startups based in Orange County that have raised $1.8 billion in investment and grant funding,” said Cindy Reifsnider, Director, Research and Impact Team, Innovate Carolina.

“We’ve been tracking them steadily for almost seven years. We have almost 2,000 employees in Orange County from those active startups. We are very tied to the Chapel Hill and Orange County community. Our startups tend to start here in Orange County, and we hope to continue to do what we can to keep them here,” said Reifsnider.

“The below data include our startups based on intellectual property; startups assisted by programs such as Launch Chapel Hill; and ‘independent” startups’ founded by faculty, staff, and students during their time at Carolina.”

  • 296 UNC-Affiliated Startups in Orange County, with 197 Active
  • Total Capital Raised by all 296 startups: $1,790,749,717
  • 2020 Revenue snapshot by 197 active startups: $365,589,991

2020 Employees snapshot by 197 active startups:

  • 2,531 total employees
  • 1,895 employees in NC/Orange
  • 536 volunteers

The University collaborates with the community to find office

UNC-Chapel Hill Patents Issue 5-year Change.

space and create entrepreneurial opportunities such as wet labs and access to town and gown initiatives.

Launch Chapel Hill, is an accelerator operated by a public-private partnership between the University, the Town, Orange County and donors. 

Changing the Way We Teach Entrepreneurship

When Kim L.R. Brouwer of the Eshelman School of Pharmacy was honored as Carolina’s Inventor of the Year in 2019 for co-inventing B-CLEAR® (U.S. Patent No. 6,780,580), she talked about the dramatic shift we see today in the way we educate our graduate students.

“As a graduate student we were considered scientists, not entrepreneurs, and we did not have the business training to do this ourselves. We had to rely heavily on CEOs, and sometimes that takes you in a great direction and sometimes not.” The same is true of investors, she added.

“We have seen a dramatic shift in the way we educate our graduate professional students today,” Brouwer said. “We encourage them, when they have an idea, to begin to think how they can channel that to the benefit of patient care or science more broadly.

“Successfully bringing innovation to market requires time, effort, passion, perseverance and a measure of luck.”

Innovate Carolina Impact Dashboard:

Laurie Paolicelli is the Executive Director of the Chapel Hill/Orange County Visitors Bureau.

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