N.C. A&T patent display in the Fort IRC building

A brief guide to technology transfer

Getting started

I have a great idea! What do I do now?

Here are the first two things:

  • Tell the Office of Technology Transfer (OTT) before you tell outside parties!
  • Submit a new idea via email or submit an Invention Disclosure.

We would be happy to walk you through the questions in the form.

Laws on patents and other forms of protection for intellectual property are a complex and often arcane field. But one thing is very clear: Premature public disclosure can ruin all foreign patent rights and might "poison the well" in the United States as well.

Four ways to protect intellectual property

  • Patent
    A patent gives the owner the exclusive right to exclude others from the manufacture, use and sale of an invention for roughly 20 years. To be patentable, an invention must be novel, useful, and non-obvious.
  • Copyright (©)
    A copyright prevents others from copying your expression of an idea. The owner has exclusive right over the work, including reproduction, distribution, adaptation, derivation, publication, or performance. The work is protected as soon as it's in a tangible medium.
  • Trade Secret
    A trade secret is information deriving independent economic value from not being generally known. Secrets are generally not consistent with the University’s mission to disseminate information freely. Two familiar examples are the Google search algorithm and the formula for Coca-Cola.
  • Trademark (™ or ®)
    A word, phrase, symbol, or design that identifies and distinguishes the source of the goods or services of one party from those of others. A useful branding tool for business, it is not needed in an academic setting.

What do I need for an invention disclosure?

An invention disclosure provides important information to OTT and serves as a witnessed invention record to help establish the timeline of your conception and reduction to practice.

You need a conception of the invention: a definite idea of the complete and operative invention. A research plan isn't an invention.  OTT needs to know that the invention works as you envision it, either because the field is predictable or because you have data proving utility.

You need to be able to explain the specific technical applications and market potential of your technology. A patent is a business tool and needs to be consistent with a company’s market strategy. Patents are driven by market need, not necessarily by technical merit.

You need to explain how your innovation fits within the landscape of the technical field. Search the literature and patents. What is the closest technology to your idea/invention?

Frequently asked questions

  • When should I visit the Office of Outreach and Technology Transfer?
    As soon as you have clearly conceptualized the invention. 
  • What constitutes a Public Disclosure?
    A variety of communications or other actions can constitute a public disclosure, including:
    Published or written documents, such as newspaper articles, newsletters,  journals, poster presentations; books, slide presentations, blogs, website articles, theses, abstracts, funded grant proposals;
    Discussions with third parties;
    Public use of the product or process; or
    Sale or offer for sale of the product or process.
  • Who owns inventions created at A&T?
    N.C. A&T owns inventions made by its employees/students working under a grant or contract and/or when using N.C. A&T resources and facilities.  There are exceptions, so talk to OTT.
  • How long does the patent process take?
    The patent process usually involves filing a provisional patent application, followed 12 months later by a utility patent application. It can take years before a utility patent application yields an issued patent claim.

Office of Tech Transfer contacts

Laura Collins, Ph.D., Director of Intellectual Property and Patent Agent

Dr. Laura Collins serves as the licensed patent agent for N.C. A&T and as the intellectual property liaison between the Vice Chancellor for DORED and agencies, businesses and law firms hired for patent prosecution and licensing.  She is responsible for reviewing all requests for patent licensing with regard to protection of the university’s intellectual property. She evaluates submissions of preliminary ideas and invention disclosures to determine the feasibility of filing for patents on behalf of principal investigators and the university.  She also works with faculty to evaluate the innovative merit of proposed research programs.

Before joining the Office of Outreach and Economic Development in 2010, Laura spent 10 years with intellectual property law firms.  As a patent agent and scientific advisor, she prosecuted foreign and domestic patent applications on topics, including radiolabeled antibodies, small molecule and biotech therapeutics, microfluidic devices, activated carbons used in electric double layer capacitors, and silicon inks used in printed electronics.  She also conducted inventorship investigations, as well as freedom to operate and prior art landscape analyses.

Laura earned her Ph.D. in Chemistry from UNC Chapel Hill.  She received undergraduate degrees in chemistry, with honors, and history from Bryn Mawr College.  She is admitted to practice before the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and is a member of the American Chemical Society.