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Facilities, Expertise Draw Patents to University

The Procter & Gamble gift comes in the form of 35 patents called Enhanced Water Softening Technology. The gift, which officials say could bring in up to $100 million annually if fully utilized, also includes funding for three years of research to adapt the technologies for municipal water treatment plants and industrial plants.

The reputation of UNC's program in drinking water research was influential in its selection to develop techniques for treating hard water, said Philip Singer, who will lead the program. Singer is the director of the Drinking Water Research Center, which was established in January at the School of Public Health to consolidate research efforts and help guide drinking water policy.

Ed Bastian, Procter & Gamble's supervisor for external relations' corporate new ventures, said the company selected UNC for the gift because of its excellent facilities, its vast experience with water treatment technology and Singer's world-renowned expertise in the field.

Bastian said Procter & Gamble hopes the donated technologies will be effectively developed through its partnership with UNC. "(Corporate new ventures) is a fairly new organization that looks for innovative ways to move our technologies, whether through sale, licensing or donation," he said.

Singer said this particular technology will capture and filter out calcium ions by placing specially treated calcium carbonate crystals in the water supply.

Procter & Gamble hired an outside consulting firm to estimate the potential value of the patents. The firm speculated that the use of the technology could bring $100 million annually to the University.

Mark Crowell, associate vice chancellor for UNC's Office of Technology Development, said the technological transfer program will look for a pre-existing company or create a company to market products like the calcium carbonate crystals because UNC cannot market products itself.

The company to which the University has licensed the technology will then attempt to increase earnings. The $100 million estimate represents the potential revenue at maximum possible sales, but officials said the technology would probably bring in somewhat less than that amount.

"I don't see that happening," Singer said of the probability of reaching the firm's estimate. "But wouldn't that be wonderful?"

To maximize the potential of the patents and reap the greatest revenue, Singer will work with two environmental studies graduate students, Ken Mercer and Yi-Pin Lin, in developing the technologies during the next three years.

Crowell and the technological transfer program will manage the patents during this time. This will entail such responsibilities as paying the maintenance fees or handling legal issues with some of the patents still pending.

Crowell said the gift marks a new trend in the way technologies are developed. "Patent donations in general are kind of unusual. It's kind of a new phenomenon."

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