04 Nov WARF Collaboration a Win-Win for Wisconsin
Wisconsin has a world class university, an emerging biotech industry, a well educated work force and citizens who are proud of their state. Wisconsin also has a $3.2 billion budget deficit and a per capita income almost $1000 under the national average. We also rank below the national average in citizens with a 4-year degree, which means we are losing our college graduates to other states. The current state of our economy presents a complex problem that cannot be easily solved by any single entity. Instead, we must harness the various sectors of our society and engage them in the difficult work of increasing our state’s prosperity.
The University of Wisconsin-Madison and the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF) are committed to partnerships with government, the private sector and any other group interested in bringing new technology to Wisconsin companies and entrepreneurs. Indeed, we believe collaborations between public, private and non-profit entities will play an important role in helping our industries innovate, stay competitive and grow.
To illustrate the benefits of collaboration I would like to highlight one joint effort that has already produced tremendous returns for the UW-Madison, a Wisconsin company and the state’s economy. In the late 1970’s, Charles Mistretta, a UW-Madison professor of medical physics, began experimenting with television and special-purpose computers to take X-ray images of blood vessels for diagnostic purposes. By using a TV screen to compare images taken before and after injection of a contrast agent, he was able to visualize arteries more clearly than ever before. The technique, called digital subtraction imaging (DSA), was introduced to the marketplace in 1981 and has been the dominant X-ray technique for vascular imaging ever since. General Electric Medical Systems of Waukesha, Wisconsin, as well as other leading medical imaging companies, licensed this technology and many additional enhancements to it over the years. This partnership between university and industry resulted in an extremely successful product for the company and yielded over $10 million in royalties for the UW-Madison and WARF from 1981 to 1996.
To foster additional successes in the future, GE Medical Systems, the UW-Madison and WARF entered into a Master Collaboration Agreement in 2001. This agreement provides research support for UW-Madison professors in the field of medical imaging, including support for their graduate students. It also allows UW-Madison and GE Medical Systems scientists to freely collaborate on the development of new products and product improvements by spelling out ahead of time how intellectual property issues will be handled.
Although the many of the benefits of this new collaboration agreement remain to be realized, we believe they will be several-fold. The UW-Madison and its scientists benefit from early access to state-of-the-art technology, collaboration with the scientists and engineers at GE Medical Systems, licensing revenue from UW patents which are used by GE products, the opportunity to work on projects with real-world applications that will improve people’s lives, and enhanced training for graduate students. GE Medical Systems benefits by reducing the time cycle for introducing new technology into its products, improving its products through the feedback of the world-class clinical faculty at UW, and gaining access to UW-Madison’s world-class medical imaging researchers and the best students looking for employment in the field. Wisconsin also stands to benefit from the continued success of one of its largest employers, including the generation of more high paying jobs, and the revenues that come from the taxes paid by GE Medical Systems and its employees.
This type of collaboration could be replicated in many areas of the state. We encourage companies that want to stay competitive and innovative to tap into the expertise available throughout the 26 campuses of the UW System. Indeed, if Wisconsin is to raise its per capita income above the national average, reduce its budget deficit, keep its best and brightest graduates, and continue to compete in the world marketplace, we believe these types of collaborations are a necessity.
Carl E. Gulbrandsen is Managing Director of the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation.