Five questions with the invention expert

Patrick Klepcyk outside the Innovation Hub

Patrick Klepcyk has led Iowa State's Office of Innovation Commercialization since June 2021. Contact the office at 294-4740. Photo by Christopher Gannon.

Patrick Klepcyk ("KLEP-sick") leads the Office of Innovation Commercialization, an umbrella for two workhorse units: The ISU Research Foundation owns and manages the research intellectual property -- inventions -- developed at Iowa State. The Office of Intellectual Property and Technology Transfer executes all agreements about its use, which involves negotiating with industry partners and commodity groups. Collectively, the staffs work on about 100 patent applications and 1,400 supporting agreements in a year.


Patrick Klepcyk
Director, Office of Innovation Commercialization (OIC) and Office of Intellectual Property and Technology Transfer(OIPTT)
President, Iowa State University Research Foundation (ISURF)
Time at Iowa State: 15 months
Years in the work of protecting and commercializing intellectual property: 20 (including five previous institutions)

How do I know it's time to tell you about my work?

Early and often is what we're after, and that involves my staff engaging with you. Our review of a disclosure is a one-point-in-time decision. You might get a "not yet" response from us, but the earlier we know of your work, we can advise, for example, on a better patentable route or a better path toward commercialization. The only way you know when it's time is through conversations.

We try to leverage ISU programs and their leaders -- the bioscience platform CTOs, the leadership council in the vice president for research office, associate deans of research -- to see who's doing interesting research. So, we're actively looking for leads, too.


What changes when I disclose my invention?

A public disclosure -- sharing your concept at a conference or in a journal, for example -- starts a one-year clock to seek a U.S. patent. Filling out our disclosure form isn't public; you're simply telling your employer about your invention. But it alerts you to the fact that a public disclosure could impact your ability to get patent protection, and it engages our office to decide how we'll move forward with potential patent protection and commercialization. An iterative process between this office and the researcher is ideal.

Don't be intimidated by the disclosure form. You don't need a complete disclosure to reach out to us, and a lot of the information in it can be obtained during an initial meeting with someone from OIC. And remember, the disclosure form doesn't automatically start the patent application. When the time is right, we would work with you on that process.


What's a common misperception about the work your office does?

That we only review the patentability of the invention and not its path to commercialization. We're actually reviewing the intellectual property and commercial prospects at the same time, taking into account variables such as faculty interest in entrepreneurship, stage of development, graduate student involvement, research funding or interested investors.

There can be less-than-ideal patent situations that are more successful because some of those other pieces are present. Inversely, if you have patents no one wants, maybe we shouldn't be filing a patent. Those inventions could just be disclosed to the public for broad use.


What are the current royalty producers for Iowa State?

Over the last 10 years, our watermelon germplasm and several animal vaccines have been the most lucrative. And many remember this office's historical success commercializing leadfree solder: $58 million in royalties until the patent expired in 2013. Today, we're looking for innovation in all corners of the campus. Our goal is to build a pipeline of revenue-generating licenses from numerous successes, not just "the big one." Lots of licensed technologies, in aggregate, add up.


Why should I disclose my invention?

Our highest calling is to disseminate information from Iowa State, whether that's publishing, graduating students or conducting research that leads to products people can use. So, part of our decision is whether there's a benefit to the public, not just whether there's a significant financial gain.

Yes, there is a benefit to protecting inventions so companies will invest in them. When that happens successfully, there is revenue for the university, and the inventor receives one-third of that revenue after expenses.