Internal Resources

Innovation Resources

Enabling Innovation Initiative

Drawing directly from the mission of the School of Medicine, the focus of this initiative is to:

  • Embrace a culture of innovation to promote discovery
  • Facilitate dissemination of new knowledge through entrepreneurial pathways to advance basic medical knowledge and ultimately improve patient care

About the Enabling Innovation Initiative

  • Purpose

    The ei2 (Enabling Innovation Initiative) program exists to lower barriers, serve as a bridge to entrepreneurial resources, and to actively support efforts to move basic science discoveries forward into technology commercialization opportunities.

  • Goals

    In providing increased support for innovation and entrepreneurial activity by SOM faculty, we expect to see:

    • Increased licensing and new ventures
    • A greater appreciation of these efforts as part of faculty recruitment and retention
    • Fostering interactions and collaborations with industry
  • Speaker Series

    The Initiative holds an annual speaker series (2-3 speakers in the spring and 2-3 speakers in the fall) focused on examples of advancing innovation on campus. Presenters for the speakers series include researcher-entrepreneurs that have launched and grown companies focused on commercializing the fruits of their academic research programs, describing the process, challenges, and benefits of leading commercialization efforts. Information about prior speakers for this series can be found here.

  • Innovation Ambassador Program

    The Innovation Ambassadors Program is a volunteer initiative whereby a faculty member from each department across the University acts as a liaison between researchers and innovation programs across campus to provide Vanderbilt faculty with improved, peer-delivered access to information and assistance related to innovation and entrepreneurship activities on campus. Ambassadors received tailored instruction on a variety of commercialization and entrepreneurship topics, as well as IP and application of Vanderbilt policies and procedures, all designed to enable them to help others in their departments obtain quick guidance on their innovation and entrepreneurship needs. Information about the program, including sign-up information, can be found here.

Vanderbilt Innovation Ambassadors Program


The Innovation Ambassadors Program is an institutional initiative to provide Vanderbilt faculty with improved, peer-delivered access to information and assistance related to innovation and entrepreneurship on campus. The Program achieves this goal by recruiting a faculty Ambassador from each department to act as a liaison between researchers and innovation programs across campus. Ambassadors receive instruction on a variety of commercialization, intellectual property, and entrepreneurship topics, as well as application of Vanderbilt policies and procedures, all designed to enable them to help others in their departments obtain quick guidance and access to all their innovation and entrepreneurship needs.

The Innovation Ambassadors Program is an initiative of the Enabling Innovation Initiative, a joint effort between the School of Medicine (SOM), Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC), and Center for Technology Transfer and Commercialization (CTTC). However, the Program is intended to serve the entire Vanderbilt research community and is not limited to life science researchers. The Program's success relies exclusively on the volunteer Ambassadors and support from their departments.

Learn more about this program here.

Applying for patent protection of faculty intellectual property

  • A quick guide for Vanderbilt University Basic Sciences

    This guide was assembled by Chuck Sanders, with much input from Vanderbilt Center for Technology Transfer and Commercialization officers Alan Bentley and Mike Villalobos.

    "I have a concept or prototype for an invention, biological material, software, or document/content ('matter') that I think may have commercial potential and should therefore be legally protected as intellectual property. What should I know and what should I do?"

    Document the conceptualization and development of your "matter" in writing (e.g., a lab notebook) or some other medium. While generally no longer required in the U.S., it remains a good idea to date and sign such documentation.

    As soon as your matter is developed in conceptual detail and/or actually fleshed out in tangible form ("reduced to practice"), file a disclosure with the Vanderbilt Center for Technology Transfer and Commercialization. There are four types of disclosure forms: one for patentable innovations, one for software/apps, one for content (written document, music, video, etc.), and one for biological materials. If in doubt about whether to file a disclosure or what type of disclosure to file, just contact the CTTC via email. They will be most happy to advise you.

    It is never too early to contact the CTTC! This guide is written mostly with patentable innovations and biological materials in mind, but the CTTC can also help you with software/apps and content.

    The CTTC will work with you to determine if a patent application, copyright application, or other form of protection is appropriate. If so, they will work with you to prepare and submit such applications. There is no expense to you for filing such applications.

  • Should I keep my idea confidential?
    • You can discuss with and present your matter to other VU/VUMC personnel, although they should be aware of the imperative to not broadcast information on the matter beyond the Vanderbilt community.
    • Avoid discussing, publishing, and/or presenting your matter in significant detail to non‐VU/VUMC personnel or media (journals, non‐VU/VUMC presentations, web sites, dissertations, etc.) before it is protected unless covered by a formal confidentiality agreement. In the case of a Ph.D. dissertation, it is possible to write, defend, and submit the completed dissertation, but place a hold on its public release until a patent application (or an application for some other form of protection) is submitted.
    • Just because you have discussed your matter with someone outside of VU/VUMC does not mean that you cannot file a disclosure with the CTTC. In most cases, the level of such discussion will not be an "enabling disclosure." However, discussion providing key details that would allow someone to replicate your work (an enabling disclosure) would be a problem. Public disclosure of "enabling" information may cause forfeiture of rights in most non‐U.S. jurisdictions, although a one‐year grace period exists in the U.S.
    • When in doubt, contact the CTTC.
  • Who are the inventors?
    • The inventor is the person (or persons) who originally conceived the matter, but this can also include (as co‐inventors) those who contributed by conceptualizing the enabling innovations required to "reduce to practice" the overall invention. Disclosures can be co‐authored.
    • If a student, other trainee, or staff member was involved in the conceptualization of the project, then they should be listed as a co‐inventor.
    • It is OK to involve students, other trainees, and staff in the development of a protectable matter that you have conceived. Participation in development does not confer co‐inventor status. However, the involvement of students or others in development should be reported when you file a disclosure. When relevant, students and postdocs should be made aware that they are working on a project for which the faculty advisor plans to seek IP protection because publication of their results from this project could be delayed until a patent application is filed (see below).
    • If students, trainees, and/or staff are involved in the development of your matter, do not worry that your life will suddenly involve a complicated web of conflict of interest disclosures and oversight. COI issues will usually be minimal, at least until your matter is either licensed and/or results in formation of a company in which you hold equity.
    • If your matter was co‐conceived by you and non‐VU personnel (e.g., faculty at another university) and/or if your matter has relied on components (e.g., reagents) that came to you from outside of the university, you can still file a disclosure but should declare all outside involvement.
    • Ultimately, the CTTC will work with you to determine whether any others beside you merit "inventor" status and/or may have a legal right to a share of commercial revenues. A patent attorney will comprehensively assess all contributions and ensure that the inventor list is correct.
  • Will this process interfere with my academic work (grants, papers, talks, etc.)?
    • Once a first patent application has been filed, it is OK to submit a paper on your matter for publication. Patents may be able to be filed after paper submission, but the timeline for filing is compressed as patent rights outside of the U.S. are no longer available if publication occurs before a patent application is filed.
    • The time period between disclosure and decision about a patent application is often short (i.e., a few weeks) and can be expedited if needed. Accordingly, disclosure and applications for protection often do not result in major delays of publications and presentations. However, one possible outcome is that your disclosed project is deemed to be on the path to being viable for a patent application, but not until backed up by additional results that will take time and effort to procure and submit for consideration by the CTTC.
    • It is OK if your matter is directly related to research being supported by existing or proposed federal grants. It is the university's responsibility to facilitate commercial development stemming from federally supported research (Bayh‐Dole Act), and they are well prepared to assist you with the disclosure of inventions and other matter to funding agencies as a standard component of grants reporting. Federal statutes require universities to protect, commercialize, and report to the government funding agency any inventions made using government funding.
  • Are there any fiscal considerations to keep in mind?
    • The cost of disclosure and subsequent applications for patent or copyright protection is covered by the CTTC. All effort and legal fees associated with marketing, licensing, and enforcing intellectual property rights are also university expenses.
    • As the initiator/inventor of protected matter, you are entitled to receive a significant fraction of any income generated by the licensed use or sale of or by any other transaction involving your matter. Indeed, Vanderbilt has a very generous policy regarding royalties, sharing nearly half of licensing income with the inventors.
  • What if the university's CTTC office decides not to file a patent application?
    • Sometimes the university reviews an invention disclosure but decides not to file a patent application. In this case you are free to pursue intellectual property rights on your own by working with experts outside of the university (e.g., with a patent law firm). In this case you will have to pay the various associated fees. There is a Vanderbilt "return of rights policy" for such cases.
  • What if I want to start a company to commercialize my matter?
    • You will need to work out a license to any intellectual property rights with the CTTC. To facilitate the process, the CTTC has developed a start‐up license agreement that they will review with you.
    • The CTTC can help with company formation if necessary, and can help identify investors, executives, and advisors that can help the company launch and grow. More information on startup support can be found on the CTTC website.
    • The Wond'ry, Vanderbilt's Innovation Center, has a plethora of resources to help build and test new company concepts.
    • The Office of Conflict of Interest Management can provide guidance and help build and approve a conflicts management plan to address the time and effort you and (possibly) members of your lab commit to the new company.
  • If an invention is developed in part using federal grant funds (e.g., NIH), what does the government have a claim to?
    • The government does not have a claim to revenue, but does have a claim to a free license to the invention for government purposes alone. When the CTTC gets a disclosure that indicates that government funds have been used, it is reported to the government agency funding the research. There are then many follow-ups with the government agency to ensure that the CTTC fulfills the following government compliance obligations:
      • Issuing a free government license.
      • Formally claiming ownership of the invention.
      • Reporting on all patenting activities.
      • Reporting the decision not to pursue patenting.
      • Reporting all licensing efforts and all revenues that Vanderbilt receives.
    • For the most part, government reporting falls to the CTTC (see above), where CTTC reporting needs to match whatever the inventor happens to report on their progress reports and closeout reports to the agency funders. It is not more complicated for inventors to file a patent for an invention that was government funded, it is just critically important for the CTTC to add a sentence acknowledging government sponsorship of the work at the beginning of the patent.

Previous Speakers

  • IDBiologics


    So you think you want to be an entrepreneur… I am an entrepreneur, an eternal optimist struggling every day against long odds. I am lucky enough to have my dream job! But I also have to do many things that I dread - it comes with the territory. I am constantly rejected, but the rare successes are truly meaningful. If this still sounds interesting, I'm happy to tell you more about my journey from academia to a biotech startup. IDBiologics was founded in 2017 to discover and develop human monoclonal antibodies for the prevention, treatment, and cure of infectious diseases.

  • Esra Roan, Ph.D.

    Esra Roan, Ph.D.

    Co-Founder, CEO SOMAVAC® Medical Solutions

    So much pressure is placed on us as we pick our degree in college and decide what we are meant to do for life. And then, many of us graduate to find ourselves standing in front of a hill to be climbed as fast as we can, whether in corporate or academic environments. My personal experience has been a windy road, exploring opportunities in academia, industry, and as an entrepreneur. I am enthusiastic about sharing my story to provide evidence that indeed careers need not be linear while encouraging rethinking and taking action earlier. Esra is the co-founder of SOMAVAC® Medical Solutions. Prior to her role with SOMAVAC®, she was an Associate Professor in Biomedical Engineering at the University of Memphis. Esra's more than 15 years of experience in product development and biomedical research gives her the tools to enhance the lives of patients with products that make a difference. Her education is in Mechanical Engineering (TTU and U of Cincinnati).

  • David Owens

    David Owens

    Professor for the Practice of Management and Innovation Evans Family Executive Director, The Wond'ry Innovation Center

    David A. Owens, Evan's Family Executive Director of The Wond'ry, shared his perspectives on the transforming innovation ecosystem at Vanderbilt. Dr. Owens shared The Wond'ry's mission of enabling the pursuit of innovation, value creation and social change through active engagement, hands-on learning, and the development of creative confidence. He provided an insider's look at the thriving and inclusive innovation community that is The Wond'ry while sharing some stories of recent campus innovators.

  • Kayla Graff, MBA

    Kayla Graff, MBA

    CEO & Co-Founder SweetBio

    Kayla Rodriguez Graff, MBA is the CEO and co-founder of SweetBio, a Memphis, Tennessee based, commercial-ready medical device company with FDA-cleared, honey-incorporated wound care products. Kayla spoke about SweetBio's start-up journey, highlight their technology and why it is so complicated from a regulatory stand point, and she will give her top 3-5 tips/tricks for presenting information, attracting champions, and raising the dollars needed to convert the ideas into start-up and commercial ventures.

  • Gary J. Nabel, M.D., Ph.D.

    Gary J. Nabel, M.D., Ph.D.

    Chief Scientific Officer & Senior Vice President, Sanofi

    Advances in understanding human disease have informed the rational design of medicines and provided major advances in human health. Combined with new technologies to identify optimal therapeutic targets, gene editing, antibody design and structural biology, these tools are delivering improved treatments for cancer, infectious and autoimmune diseases. Among therapeutic platforms, the technical advances in antibody engineering, gene delivery, vaccine design and biologics manufacturing have enabled the development of multispecific and combination medicines that target critical multifactorial pathways of disease.   These advances can be turned into medicines that benefit patients only if they can be translated into products that can be supported at scale, consistent, at a speed that fulfills their promise.  Critical to progress in the field is the ability of academic and industry scientists to collaborate scientifically and rapidly generate proof of concept for new therapies in humans.  Once these are addressed, effective late-stage development will be needed to provide these medicines to patients worldwide.  Success will require continued scientific discovery and innovation through public and private partnerships.

  • Jeff Conn

    Jeff Conn

    Lee E. Limbird Professor of Pharmacology; Director, Vanderbilt Center for Neuroscience Drug Discovery

  • Brian Laden

    Brian Laden

    Co-founder and Managing Director, TriStar Health Partners

  • Edward D. McGruder, DVM, Ph.D.

    Edward D. McGruder, DVM, Ph.D.

    Chief Scientific Officer, Elanco Animal Health

  • Sinead Miller

    Sinead Miller

    CEO & Co-Founder, PATH EX, Inc.

    "Launching A Startup During the PhD Journey"
    Dr. Miller, a postdoc in Vanderbilt University's Giorgio Lab, launched PATH EX, Inc., a spin-out/start-up that is "developing an extracorporeal blood cleansing device designed to selectively remove pathogens, including multi-drug resistant bacteria, and endotoxins from circulating blood." She will discuss her career path from graduate student to leader of an academic start-up.
    Miller Flyer Research News Article

  • Alan Bentley

    Alan Bentley

    Members of the Vanderbilt community are invited to a lecture this April 6th addressing the importance of engaging industry in supporting the advancement of promising research programs on campus. Vanderbilt's Alan Bentley will discuss emerging initiatives at Vanderbilt to engage industry more effectively and comprehensively, and a team from Deerfield Management will discuss its collaborative approach working with premier academic institutions to catalyze early stage therapeutic development. A reception will follow. More info here.
    Deerfield Management, Vanderbilt University announce launch of Ancora Innovation

  • Dane Wittrup

    Dane Wittrup

    C.P. Dubbs Professor of Chemical Engineering and Biological Engineering, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

  • Dr. David L. Black, Ph.D., F-ABFT, FAIC

    Dr. David L. Black, Ph.D., F-ABFT, FAIC

    Founder, Aegis Sciences Corporation

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