Updated March 26 at 12:27am

Research emphasis paying off in patents at URI

By Rebecca Keister
PBN Staff Writer

Who couldn’t use a little extra motivation to get moving?

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Research emphasis paying off in patents at URI


Who couldn’t use a little extra motivation to get moving?

Patricia Burbank, a nursing professor at the University of Rhode Island, sure thought her elderly aunt, who lives independently, would benefit from having a reminder to exercise that also would relay warm messages that would allow the woman to feel loved.

The result was AAGILE, a small device worn at a person’s waist to monitor and analyze when that person is being physically active. Oral messages are given to the person at set times and when they are being inactive. Burbank came up with the idea about five years ago and now, thanks largely to resources at URI, including a collaboration with engineering professor Ying Sun, she’s formed Burbank Industries in order to apply for a Small Business Technology Transfer research grant to produce more prototypes and hopefully bring the device into the marketplace.

“[URI has been] absolutely critical [to this]. We would not have been able to do a patent application [otherwise]. URI did that for us,” Burbank said.

Burbank Industries and AAGILE equal one of a record 22 United States patents received by URI faculty in 2011 and 2012, up from 25 patents received for the prior five years total.

Faculty also received two U.S. trademarks and filed 46 U.S. intellectual property applications.

The university’s research and commercialization staff say the increase can be, at least partially, attributed to a 40 percent increase in research funding over the last six years.

“We’re bringing in faculty [who] focus on research. We have two new research facilities that provide much more laboratory space and cutting-edge technologies,” said Peter Alfonso, URI vice president for research and economic development. “We’ve made a lot of changes by elevating the focus on research in ways the institution has not had before.”

For fiscal 2012 the university received a total of $98.3 million in research awards, meaning grants and contracts.

It has averaged $100 million in research grants over the past three years. In fiscal 2012, the university expended $100.3 million for research.

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