Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Rice's First Patent

Ever wonder when Rice University was first granted ownership of a U.S. patent? Turns out it was in 1984.


I wonder if you’re as shocked as I am. Rice researchers were innovators and inventors for decades by then. There’s no reason Rice should not have more patents on its books. For that matter, why was the patent in 1984 the only one until 1990? In fact, the number of patents listing Rice University as assignee is extremely low until the early 2000s, when I can only guess someone decided to prioritize patents.

Think about it: Rice needed over 70 years to decide the university should register and formally own its patentable IP.

I searched USPTO’s Patent Public Search database and Free Patents Online to double check. I used both Rice University and Rice Institute as assignee, or owner. I even went wild and tried just Rice, and found no patents issued prior to 1984.


Search screen from Patent Public Search showing Rice-owned patents
Search for Rice-owned patents

When Rice's institutional repository, the digital scholarship archive, showed nothing earlier in the patents sub-collection, I assumed it was due to a lack of compatible files or perhaps patent PDF availability--but I should know better than to doubt my preceding patent librarian.

Meanwhile, congratulations to John Freeman, Jr., the inventor of U.S. Patent 4453108A, Device for Generating RF Energy from Electromagnetic Radiation of another Form Such as Light (PDF in link). This distinction is only one among many Freeman has earned during his career with Rice, which started in 1965. Visit his faculty bio here, which mentions his patented invention.

Investigations into Rice's hesitancy to apply for patents will follow, be sure to check back for updates!

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