The explosion of business activity surrounding solid-state fusion hasn't been lost on the University of Utah, which stands to make money on almost every fusion-related venture that surfaces.
Although the U.'s emphasis is on the big picture of developing its chemistry department's fusion findings into large scale generation of energy, it still rakes in royalties and markups on the fusion-inspired trinkets bearing the university's name or logos.The university charges a 6 percent markup on items sold on campus, an identical royalty to vendors off campus and a licensing fee to use the U. name.
Royalties on T-shirt and bumper sticker sales haven't been tallied, but the proceeds are plowed back into school operations and also go toward enforcing U. trademarks. The university hires an agency to track down anyone using the school's name and insignias without permission.
"We police it to protect the U.'s image," said Dave Husted, merchandising manager for the University of Utah Bookstore.
But the income from retail sales hardly compares to what the institution could make if its fusion experiment turns out to be the miracle energy source supporters claim.
The seven-member staff of the U.'s Technology Transfer department has been inundated with calls ranging from multinational corporations to individuals wanting to get a piece of the action.
"We expected a high degree of interest, but it has been higher than expected," said department director Norm Brown.
He said an estimated 200 inquiries have actually been received by several departments throughout the university, but the technology transfer office has the responsibility of establishing the formal link between private industry and academic research.
Brown explained that his office arranges licensing agreements that enable private industry to use technology developed at the university. The university and the researchers receive fees and royalties for use the patented technology.
No estimates are available on what the U. stands to profit if the fusion experiments have large scale application. Some state officials have joked that the role of the university as an arm of the state could be reversed, if the fusion claim is the real thing. But Brown said the role reversal obviously won't be the case and no determination on the amount of money U. makes for another two years when, and if, any research takes place.
Because the fusion experiments, in which U. researchers say they have produced heat in a room-temperature fusion reaction, have the potential of revolutionizing the way the world generates energy, numerous requests have been received to arrange licensing agreements with private industry to develop the technology.
Brown said the calls have come in three categories: multinational firms, local companies and venture capitalists. The U. has signed agreements with some firms, including Westinghouse, but many others have been put on hold as state appointed attorneys nail down the patenting process and determine how the U. should proceed.
University officials have stated publicly several times that companies willing to establish facilities in Utah will be favored in licensing agreements. But Brown noted some legal limits to giving such preference and those interested in using the U.'s patented information must be treated equitably.
"There are some mechanisms and incentives that can be provided in the interest" of locating in Utah and establishing a fusion research center at the university, he said.