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Translating UA Inventions to Society to Improve with Key Role Filled

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Dr. Nghia Chiem

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – Efforts to address society’s challenges by the flourishing research enterprise at The University of Alabama will be boosted with the filling of a critical role that shepherds innovation created on campus to the marketplace.

With externally funded research awards at record levels, there has been an increase in inventions and patent activities from UA research and scholarly activity. A reimagined unit in the UA Office for Research and Economic Development, the Office for Innovation and Commercialization protects and transfers University-created intellectual property into new products and services for the public use and benefit.

“Extending innovation outside of campus is a vital component of the University’s mission to serve the state,” said Dr. Russell J. Mumper, UA vice president for research and economic development. “Success in the transfer of technology leads directly to job creation, regional economic growth and employment opportunities for UA graduates while enhancing the education of students across campus.”

A top tier research institution, UA’s external grants and contracts directly supporting research in fiscal year 2020 reached record levels with an increase of more than 30% from fiscal year 2019. It was the third consecutive year externally sponsored research hit record highs.

Invention disclosures and patent applications have risen, as well. Over the past five years, patent applications increased 21% and invention disclosures jumped nearly 10%. From 2016 to 2020, there were 21 license agreements executed, as well.

“By building a large cache of patents, UA is able to increase its global impact, receive more funding for research, develop start-up companies and positively impact the local and state economy,” said Lauren Wilson, assistant vice president for research and technology agreements.

To successfully move an idea to a product requires the Office for Innovation and Commercialization to nurture and sustain relationships with industry, facilitate sponsored funding support through thoughtful intellectual property contract terms and practices, and serve and advise the University community on all areas related to intellectual property, including providing training and consulting assistance.

Dr. Nghia Chiem is joining UA as the director of the Office for Innovation and Commercialization after more than a decade of working experience in early-stage companies. He will be a key member of a team focused on implementing a comprehensive program of supporting innovation, technology transfer, commercialization and economic development activities.

“I am excited to serve in this role to assist UA researchers in realizing pathways that bring their discoveries into more spaces that improve our lives,” Chiem said. “Our success will not only be based on numbers of patents and agreements, but also on the number of high-quality collaborations with industry and the creation of new companies.”

Before coming to UA, Chiem was a technology manager at the University of Tennessee Research Foundation, where he focused on the commercialization of technologies developed from inventors of the Institute of Agriculture, Chemistry, Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering.

Prior to that assignment, he served as a senior scientist for Protein Discovery, a life sciences company based in Knoxville, Tennessee, with a focus on commercializing sample preparation technologies for the mass-spectrometry market. He also previously was a senior application engineer at Coventor, and a co-founder of a spin-off company.

Chiem earned a doctorate in analytical chemistry from the University of Alberta in 1997 and a bachelor’s degree in chemical physics from Simon Fraser University in 1992.


Adam Jones, UA communications, 205-348-4328,