Senior Design Projects: Undergraduate Research Leads to Successful Patent
For many students, EE 499 provides an opportunity to move theory into practice to see the impact of engineering solutions. Projects vary in their scope and focus, with some students enhancing existing designs, and others attempting to create game-changing innovations.
In 1995, EE alumnus Ed Suominen worked with Professors John Sahr and Murat Azizoglu to develop a radio receiver technology with novel ways of tuning a radio among several channels. Ed created a technology that eased the design and improved the performance of contemporary personal wireless data services such as mobile phones, personal computers and other devices. Ed’s invention has proven particularly compatible for use in well-known Bluetooth®-enabled wireless devices.
Ed’s successful experience in EE 499 was influenced by Professor Sahr, who suggested that he look into having the UW patent his senior project. “I’m grateful to Professor Sahr for the encouragement he gave me throughout the project, and to the people at Washington Research Foundation for their diligence in the patenting and licensing work over the years,” said Suominen, who works as a registered patent agent. Sahr remembers sitting with former Professor Murat Azizoglu as they witnessed Ed’s demonstration of a working prototype, which he video-taped in the old EE building.
Ed voluntarily assigned the rights to UW in exchange for a share of licensing income by working with UW TechTransfer. In turn, the UW exclusively licensed the patents to the Washington Research Foundation (WRF). “I’ve really been pleased with the arrangement, in which I receive an inventor’s share of UW’s portion of the revenue generated by this technology. I encourage other students to work with the University on ideas from their own work that may be patentable, even where they have no obligation to do so, as was the case with me,” said Suominen, who has worked closely with WRF as a result of the arrangement.
WRF helps Washington State research institutions capture value from their emerging technologies. Early in 2007, an ongoing licensing program conducted by WRF yielded a $15 million settlement related to the use of Ed’s inventions in the field of radio receiver technology and methods of tuning radio channels. WRF has been an outstanding partner to the UW, with gifts and licensing disbursements totaling more than $150 million. The gifts from WRF have supported the creation of over 100 endowments for chairs, professorships, research fellowships and graduate stipends in science, medicine and engineering.