Stanford Invests $1.35 Billion Annually Leading to Diverse Innovation

By Steve Brachmann
February 20, 2014

As the 2014 annual meeting of the Association of University Technology Managers (AUTM) continues, IPWatchdog also continues its coverage of groundbreaking inventions coming out of the halls and research facilities of America’s top academic institutions. Today we focus on Leland Stanford Junior University, more commonly known as Stanford University. Stanford is a private research university located near Palo Alto, CA, and boasts one of the most well developed and successful technology transfer programs in the country. But to be at the top of the tech transfer rankings that means Stanford is also committed to innovation in many forms and fields.

Stanford sets aside an annual research budget of about $1.35 billion to fund its development operations for 2013-2014, and since the 1930s the university has been the starting grounds for nearly 40,000 companies, creating about 5.4 million jobs total. A 2012 study conducted by Stanford estimated that companies formed by Stanford entrepreneurs generate world revenues of $2.7 trillion annually. Recent Stanford research projects have included new techniques for the successful removal of stomach cancer cells, as well as biological surveys of marine life showing how crude oil leaks can affect heart health in fish. Today, we’re looking at the recent publications released from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office assigned directly to Stanford University to take a snapshot look at the innovative side of this academic institution.

Our featured application today is evidenced that at least some of the research being developed by Stanford aims to improve American manufacturing. This patent application would protect a device that contains a plurality of electrodes that can create an adhering force to lift and move manufactured materials without damaging them. We also discuss a couple of patent applications related to medicine, including methods of generating ear cells from stem cells as well as better treatments for pulmonary fibrosis.

Medical technologies are also prominent in the patents that have recently been issued to this university. Systems for predicting epileptic seizures before they occur and a wireless method of transmitting a charge to an implanted medical device are both protected by Stanford. We also take a look at a method for annotating panoramic images for other viewers and a system for recording more detailed movement patterns in humans for creating more realistic 3D avatars.


Vacuum Augmented Electroadhesive Device
U.S. Patent No. 20140036404

Improving the efficiency of manufacturing processes is an important way to stay competitive in today’s business world. In many industries, the automation of manufacturing processes through robotic machinery that can complete various steps in manufacturing processes. Robotic machinery and arms, for instance, can grip and lift materials and set them into place on an assembly line or manipulate materials in some other way.

In order to grip items, robotic machinery usually employs some sort of suction force to lift an item. To work properly, however, suction forces typically require a smooth and flat surface which is often unavailable in some manufactured goods. Creating suction through air pumps is often very energy intensive, and a loss of suction due to an air leak could have dire consequences. Chemical adhesives and other methods have been used to lift and move products, but these methods tend to leave some kind of marking or residue on products before they’re finished.

This patent application, filed by Stanford University with the USPTO in October 2013, would protect an electroadhesive surface that can apply vacuum force to a product to provide a robotic grip. The electroadhesive surface creates the grip through a number of electrodes contained within the surface that creates an electrostatic attraction when voltage is applied. The corresponding polarization created in the manufactured product when the electrodes are energized produces an adhesion effect.

Frame backings used with this electroadhesion surface could support the surface’s ability to adhere to products of various shapes. For example, a curved frame backing could be used, allowing the surface to curl around a round-shaped object when energized. The frame backing is connected to a load-bearing member that is capable of lifting and moving an attached item.

Claim 1 of this Stanford University patent application would protect:

“A system comprising: an electroadhesive surface associated with one or more electrodes; a load-bearing backing coupled to a backside of the electroadhesive surface so as to at least partially define a shape thereof, wherein the backing is configured to flex from a curled shape to an uncurled shape, wherein the flexion induces a corresponding transition in the shape of the electroadhesive surface; and a power supply configured to apply a voltage to the one or more electrodes associated with the electroadhesive surface to thereby cause the electroadhesive surface to adhere to an item situated proximate to the electroadhesive surface.”


Other Patent Applications

Taking a look at recent Stanford University patent applications, we’re noticing a couple of innovations that may have other intriguing impacts in industrial fields. More effective near-field optical probes using laser technologies are the focus of U.S. Patent Application No. 20140042606, entitled Low Loss Nano-Aperture. This patent application describes a nano-aperture for vertical cavity surface emitting lasers (VCSELs) composed of a silicon intermediate layer measuring from 2 nanometers to 4 nanometers. U.S. Patent Application No. 20140021907, filed under the title Wireless Energy Transfer, discusses better methods of manufacturing devices that are capable of charging devices without an wired connection. These wireless chargers could be used with handheld mobile devices and gaming devices.

From U.S. Patent Application No. 20140021907, titled “Wireless Energy Transfer.”

Stanford is also seeking to protect a number of medical technologies, a popular area of research for many of the universities that we’ve covered recently here on IPWatchdog. U.S. Patent Application No. 20140004556, titled Methods for Generating Inner Ear Cells in Vitro, would protect systems of creating both inner ear sensory hair cells and supporting cells from stem cells. This system could help those suffering from hearing loss caused by various environmental or biological factors. U.S. Patent Application No. 20140037548, which is titled Treatment and Prevention of Diffuse Parenchymal Lung Disease by Selective Active-Site mTOR Inhibitors, explains methods of treatment for various kinds of diffuse parenchymal lung diseases (DPLDs), such as pulmonary fibrosis.


Issued Patents of Note

From U.S. Patent No. 8,616,216, titled “Patterned Laser Treatment.”

The extensive network of research facilities operated through Stanford University supports a great amount of innovation in widely varied fields. Much has been discussed in recent years about a university or academic center’s ability to turn patented innovations into actual technologies with real world applications. However, here at IPWatchdog, we’re aware that many revolutionary inventions can come from collegiate research facilities just as well as private laboratories.

It surprised us to find so many patents recently issued to Stanford which dealt with improving various systems of digital multimedia content. For example, U.S. Patent No. 8611670, entitled Intelligent Part Identification for Use With Scene Characterization or Motion Capture, protects a system that is better able to capture skeletal movement from human subjects and then mapping that movement onto three-dimensional avatars for computer games, movies, and even 3D visual displays in use at hospitals and elsewhere.

U.S. Patent No. 8645832, issued under the title Methods and Apparatus for Interactive Map-Based Analysis of Digital Video Content, protects a system that makes it easier to provide interactive analysis, authoring and sharing of digital video. This patent seems to be designed to enable better computer systems for sharing and annotating panoramic images through online networks. Interestingly, this patent faced four separate final rejections before finally being awarded to Stanford, the most recent one coming in January 2013.

It didn’t surprise us to see that there were a number of medical technologies as the central focus of a trio of other interesting patents issued by the USPTO to Stanford. Better methods of multi-location treatment of an eye’s retinas are protected by U.S. Patent No. 8616216, titled Patterned Laser Treatment. This system visually aligns a laser tool with treatment locations within retinal tissue and then delivering sequential therapeutic doses of laser energy to the eye. U.S. Patent No. 8634928, issued under the title Wireless Power Transmission for Implantable Medical Devices, protects a system of transmitting power wirelessly for devices used in monitoring and treatment of biological parameters to maintain proper health in patients. Finally, we decided to explore U.S. Patent No. 8600513, entitled Seizure Prediction and Neurological Disorder Treatment. This patent protects a system that can detect high-frequency oscillation (HFO) within a patient’s brain for better prediction of seizures in epileptic patients.

The Author

Steve Brachmann

Steve Brachmann is a freelance journalist located in Buffalo, New York. He has worked professionally as a freelancer for more than a decade. He writes about technology and innovation. His work has been published by The Buffalo News, The Hamburg Sun,,, Motley Fool and Steve also provides website copy and documents for various business clients and is available for research projects and freelance work.

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