October 17th, 2018

Fast Friends: DRI and UNLV’s Office of Technology Transfer

Partnership May Help to Spur Economic Growth and Innovation?
By Maggie O’Neill

Nevada’s Desert Research Institute (DRI) has made a new friend. It has formed a partnership with the Office of Technology Transfer at the University of Las Vegas to create more exposure for innovative ideas and to increase the opportunities for commercialization of such innovations.

The partnership also may help to bolster the state economy and contribute to economic diversification.

“Our collaboration with DRI is to use the resources at each institution to help drive new innovations created at DRI to life-changing products and services,” says Zach Miles, associate vice president for economic development at UNLV and director of the Nevada Small Business Development Center at the school. “We bring certain expertise in assessing, protecting, marketing, and commercializing intellectual property, and DRI and their researchers are motivated to see their research benefit society and so are eager to engage and help structure a path forward for each innovation.”

The Desert Research Institute is the environmental research arm of the state’s university system. It has a campus in Reno and Las Vegas and generates about $30 million in revenue a year, according to its website. The Desert Research Institute was created as a division of the university by the state legislature in 1959.

UNLV’s Office of Technology Transfer, known as TTO, can help students, researchers and professors to bring their ideas and projects into the marketplace. In fact, one of the first successful ventures between the two organizations resulted in a commercial licensing agreement for a limited-liability company known as Cumulus Weather Solutions, or CWS.

The company, a start-up that began through DRI, provides weather-data solutions for the solar energy and wind industries. Its services include weather forecasting as well as data solutions related to renewable energy and real-time weather intelligence, according to the LLC’s website. Craig Smith, PhD, an assistant research professor at DRI, has more to say on the subject.
“CWS is a DRI spin-off which I have incorporated as an LLC in Nevada,” he says. “I am the founder and principal at CWS. We provide weather data solutions for the next energy economy, including forecasting of wind energy, solar energy, and decision support systems based on numerical weather prediction.”
Smith can be contacted through the Cumulus Weather Solutions website for information regarding the LCC, the business solutions it offers, questions about weather, and even pricing and quotations on services. He describes the partnership with the university’s Office of Technology Transfer as important to licensing.

“UNLV’s Tech Transfer Office acted on behalf of NSHE (The Nevada System of Higher Education) to negotiate the licensing agreement with Cumulus Weather Solutions LLC,” says Smith. “They brought a lot of prior experience to the table to help craft that agreement, experience which DRI did not necessarily have in-house.”

The Office of Technology Transfer also provides detailed information about the process of patenting inventions and who retains ownership of such inventions, particularly when an innovation is created by a researcher or employee. Additionally, UNLV’s Office of Economic Development works alongside researchers to consider the possible commercial applications of an invention, intellectual proper or idea. The first step in the process can be as simple as reaching out to the Office of Technology Transfer.

“Students can contact my office and learn more about possible research or commercialization activities,” says Miles. “There may be opportunities to help conduct the research as part of their studies, or put together business plans and market assessments to help identify the commercialization path for a given technology. In some instances, there is none and this also is extremely useful so that we don’t expend resources on a project that has a slim chance of success in the market.”

Nevada U.S. Congressman Mark Amodei has long recognized the value of innovation to economic development in the state and the country. On his website, he points out the value of new sources of energy, like geothermal and solar, to the state and elsewhere.
“Our innovative society has dramatically improved the length and quality of life for billions of people around the globe,” he says on his website. “This same ingenuity must be unleashed to meet our energy and employment challenges.”

Nevada U.S. Congresswoman Jacky Rosen likewise backs new innovation, particularly in the STEM fields. Two bipartisan bills that she introduced into the U.S. Congress earlier this year were both passed: the Building Blocks of STEM Act and The Code Like a Girl Act.

“I will continue to advocate for smart investments in STEM education so we can build a more effective workforce that helps America’s economy stay globally competitive,” she says in a press release on her website.

All of this may just mean one thing for the new partnership between Nevada’s DRI and UNLV’s Office of Technology Transfer. This friendship could be one that is made to last.