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Katharine Ku named director of technology licensing
STANFORD -- A chemical engineer and inventor who holds two patents and is a licensed patent agent has been named director of Stanford University's office of technology licensing.
Katharine Ku, 42, vice president for business development at Protein Design Labs, Inc. of Mountain View, will succeed Niels Reimers, who retired July 1 after 23 years of creating and building an operation emulated by other universities.
The appointment of Ku, who served as associate director of technology licensing at Stanford from 1984 to 1990, was announced by Chief Financial Officer Peter Van Etten after a nationwide search.
She will rejoin the staff on Sept. 23, heading a department of 20 employees who seek patents on discoveries and inventions made at Stanford, and market them to companies who then pay licensing fees.
Licensing agreements made years ago are now paying off: Royalty income, which totaled $55,000 in 1969 and $400,000 in 1979, quintupled during the last five years to a staggering $25.6 million in 1990-91. Of this, $7.5 million was paid to other institutions that share licenses with Stanford.
Ku, however, warned against complacency. She accepted the job, she said, because of challenges facing Stanford in the 1990s.
Key among them is the 1997 expiration of Stanford's license on DNA cloning, the university's number one money-maker. Last year, Stanford earned royalties of nearly $10 million on the process, developed in 1973 by Stanley Cohen of Stanford and Herbert Boyer of the University of California at San Francisco.
Bridging the gap between industry and the Stanford faculty and exploring new ways to enhance income will be top priorities, she said.
"I view it as incredibly exciting to help shape the newly emerging Stanford," Ku said, explaining why she would leave private industry to join the finance team being assembled by Van Etten.
Ku will oversee a staff that includes two chemists, an electrical engineer, a mechanical engineer, an immunologist, a biologist, a biomedical engineer, a pharmacist/biochemist and one person whose degree is in education.
These staff members evaluate an average of three to four inventions or ideas each week brought to them by faculty, staff and students. After deductions for expenses, royalty income is divided equally among the inventor, the inventor's department and the inventor's school.
Ku herself shares in two patents dealing with cell culture bioreactors that she helped develop when she worked in industry in the 1970s.
Dean of Research Robert Byer, who headed the search committee, said Ku is "modest and understated in her achievements, but her quiet and diplomatic demeanor is extremely effective." He praised her as an "excellent manager and contract negotiator" who is held in high regard for her professional expertise by industrial counterparts.
Van Etten said that Ku "knows both sides of the street very well. She has many years of experience here at Stanford and has been involved in the type of start-up entrepreneurial companies that technology licensing often deals with."
Ku earned her bachelor's degree in chemical engineering from Cornell in 1971 and her master's, also in chemical engineering, from Washington University in St. Louis in 1973.
Before joining Stanford's sponsored projects office as a patent engineer in 1979, Ku held research positions at the University of California Renal Center, Monsanto Co., Washington University and Sigma Chemical Ltd. She also taught chemistry at a community college.
In 1982, Ku was named licensing associate at Stanford's office of technology licensing. She was promoted to associate director two years later, and twice was acting director when Reimers took leaves totaling 17 months.
In 1981, Ku passed the Patent Bar - a Patent Office examination that qualifies her to apply for and defend an application before the Patent Office. (The university, however, normally hires special patent attorneys to argue applications.)
Ku has published numerous articles on scientific and business issues, and has made many presentations at professional meetings, including sessions in China and Sweden. She is former president of the Association of University Technology Managers and also is active in the Licensing Executives Society. She is a member of Tau Beta Pi engineering honorary society.
At Stanford, she served on the Committee on Investment Responsibility in 1986-87 and was a member of the Asian Staff Forum. In 1987-88, she was an administrative member of the University Fellows Program, which is intended to nurture academic statesmanship among faculty members.
Serving with Byer on the search committee were Adrian Arima, legal office; Dr. Robert Cutler, senior associate dean, medical school; Prof. Joseph Goodman, chair, electrical engineering; Prof. John Hennessy, electrical engineering and computer science; and Dr. Lawrence Steinman, neurology and genetics.
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