Patents advance microprocessors, vaccines, vision, vibration control, more

BLACKSBURG, Va., March 3, 2005 – Virginia Tech faculty and staff members and students who received 20 patents during 2004 will be honored by the university and Virginia Tech Intellectual Properties Inc. (VTIP) at a reception at the German Club on March 14.

"The creativity, contributions to knowledge, and technology transfer that patents signify are an important form of scholarship," said Brad Fenwick, vice president for research at Virginia Tech

VTIP ( is the not-for-profit organization that pursues patents and markets Virginia Tech discoveries. "The patents awarded to Virginia Tech faculty members, students, and staff represent a significant resource for economic development," said Mike Martin, VTIP executive vice president.

Patents were awarded in 2004 for technologies to increase the efficiency of the next generation of microprocessors, speed and protect the nation's power grid, protect and enhance the health of humans and animals, and improve communication and education.

Intellectual Property Development

Out of 20 patents, seven went to faculty and students in the Center for Power Electronic Systems (CPES). Another seven were for discoveries that will protect from disease or enhance treatments.

"CPES' success is not because we are more creative than others at Virginia Tech," said CPES Director Fred Lee, professor of electrical and computer engineering. "In cooperation with VTIP, we established a new mechanism to capture intellectual properties." Four of the CPES patents were licensed to the Intellectual Property Protection Fund (IPPF), created by members of the CPES industry consortium who paid fees to cover the cost of the patenting process. In return, they are given royalty-free access for two years to the intellectual property.

The arrangement is unorthodox on many fronts, Lee said. "The industries had to be convinced that sharing access to intellectual property was beneficial."

"Virginia Tech is much more generous with royalty income than many universities," said VTIP's Mike Martin. "As an incentive to faculty members to seek patents, they receive half of any royalty proceeds. And their home department or center also receives a share, which can be used for overhead, student support, or wherever a few extra dollars are needed. So CPES faculty members are giving up potential income," Martin said. "But the IPPF provides us with a review from the market place. We will be able to interest their competitors with the evidence of market acceptance."

CPES, formerly the Virginia Power Electronics Center, has had an industry consortium for more than 20 years. Members pay fees for early access to knowledge, but until recently, not to patentable properties, except inadvertently. These dues are used to support students and research. In 1998, CPES was selected as a National Science Foundation Engineering Research Center and awarded $30 million over 10 years to provide the nation with the capabilities to become a world leader in power electronics and to continue to enhance the efficiency of power electronics. CPES is a consortium of five universities led by Virginia Tech.

A number of the industry members were persuaded that it is in their interest to have the center work on their common problems, such as how to increase the speed and efficiency of ever-smaller power units, and then to share and protect results. The IPPF members review research results together and decide which are worth intellectual property protection so they can be developed into products.

"It was a hurdle for these competitors to share in a research program, but we convinced them that we are not doing product development, but pre-competitive technology development. While we do present more than a concept -- we do an actual demonstration and often have a prototype -- they can still each seek a unique competitive edge in the market place based on how they develop and use CPES discoveries," Lee said. "So they were willing to identify the issues that need to be resolved for their industry to advance and we are able to get valuable interaction with the industry and among researchers in the center."

Because IPPF members are able to make rapid decisions in an arena where they are the experts, faculty members and students can publish their research in a timely manner, Lee said.

Power Electronics Patents

The first two patents licensed to IPPF, for a "Step-Down Buck Converter with Full Bridge Circuit (6,757,184)" and for a "Multiphase Clamp Coupled-Buck Converter with Magnetic Integration (6,784,644)," are different approaches to the same objective," Lee said. "The challenge is that the next generation of microprocessors require reduced voltage, from 1.3 to 0.7; increased amps, from 70 to 150 amps; and increased clock rate, from one gigahertz to 10 GHz. How do we deliver the power to enable the processor to achieve this cost effectively and efficiently? The limitation is heat," Lee said. "We don't want to add heat. These inventions improve the efficiency of power delivery so that it will generate less heat."

The "Step-Down Buck Converter" was invented by Lee and Jia Wei, who received his master's of science in electrical engineering in 2002 and now works at Intersil Corporation of the Research Triangle Park, N.C. The "Multiphase Clamp Coupled-Buck Converter" was invented by Lee, Wei, Kaiwei Gary Yao, who received his Ph.D. in electrical engineering in 2004 and now works at Monolithic Power Systems Inc. of Los Gatos, Calif.; Mao Ye, a former student who now works at SynQor Inc. of Dallas; and Peng Xu, who received his Ph.D. in electrical and computer engineering in 2002 and now also works at Monolithic Power Systems.

The third and fourth IPPF patents, a "Method and Apparatus for Reduction of Energy Loss Due to Body Diode Conduction in Synchronous Rectifiers (6,781,853)" and a "Self-Driven Circuit for Synchronous Rectifier DC/DC Converter (6,819,574)," also are intended to power the next generation processor. "The most power consumption in a voltage regulatory moderator (VRM) is in the synchronous rectifier. These patents are about reducing that power consumption," Lee said. "There is a wide range of applications, in addition to computer processors, such as memory devices and telecommunications equipment."

Lee and Ming Xu, research professor with CPES, invented the "Method and Apparatus for Reduction of Energy Loss Due to Body Diode Conduction." Lee, Xu, and Yuancheng Ren, a doctoral student in electrical and computer engineering, invented the "Self-Driven Circuit."

The research that produced the four patents was sponsored by a subset of the CPES industry consortium, Lee said. "We have a mini-consortium of 10 companies that produces products that support microprocessors. Not many companies can invest $500,000 in research, but they can invest $50,000," which is what the 10 small companies did. They also invested in the patent process through the IPPF.

CPES also received three patents for work contracted in the traditional way -- a single sponsor seeking a solution to a specific problem. One of those inventions received an R&D 100 award from R&D Magazine for being one of 100 most technologically significant products introduced into the marketplace in 2003.

Alex Huang, formerly a CPES faculty member, now at North Carolina State University, and graduate student Bin Zhang invented "Emitter Turn-off Thyristors and Their Drive Circuits (6,710,639)." Lee said a thyristor is a solid-state switching device for semiconductors to convert AC current in one of two directions. "Thyristor devices are the work horse of the high power industry -- used throughout the nation's electricity grid. They are easy to turn on, but hard to turn off," Lee said. "Alex came up with an emitter turn-off thyristor that uses its own energy to turn off the thyristor device. You do not have to monolithically integrate the technology into silicon. You can use one device to turn off the other. It works at up to 5000 volts." The U.S. Department of Energy and the Tennessee Valley Authority sponsored the research. It is licensed to Silicon Power and Solitronics. Zhang, who is from Shi Jia Zhuang in Hebei Province, China, earned his Ph.D. in electrical and computer engineering in January 2005 and now works at Linear Technology Corporation as an integrated circuit design engineer.

Huang's second patent, "Method and Circuits for Reducing Dead Time and Reverse Recovery Loss in Buck Regulators (6,737,842)," provides more efficient methods and circuits for powering microprocessors. It is licensed to Semiconductor Research Corp. Co-inventors are Nick Sun, a former student now with National Semiconductor Corp., and Yuming Bai, who received his Ph.D. in electrical and computer engineering in 2003 and is now with Vishay Siliconix of Santa Clara, Calif.

Fengfeng Tao, who completed his Ph.D. in electrical and computer engineering in 2002 and now works at GE Global Research of Niskayuna, N.Y., and Lee have received a patent for a "Self-Oscillating Electronic Discharge Lamp Ballast with Dimming Control (6,696,803)." Fluorescent lamps require ballast to kick the gas into high-voltage glow and then to limit the current. "Florescent lamps are 60 percent more efficient than incandescent lamps, but the ballast is energy inefficient," Lee said. "The old technology uses a magnetic core and insulated wire as a ballast. An electronic ballast is 30 percent more efficient but is more expensive. There are literally hundreds or even thousands of patents for electronic ballast improvements -- particularly to make a ballast component that is both efficient and inexpensive." Lee's invention is unique because it makes it possible to dim a florescent light. "It uses oscillation technology so the ballast does not have to be turned on and off using an external drive circuit and, thus, is cost effective." The research sponsor was Matsushita Electric Works, the largest ballast company in Japan. The licensee is Delta Electronics.

Health-related patents

There also were seven health related patents received in 2004:

Cody Cain, former Virginia Tech research associate; Joseph Falkinham, Virginia Tech biology professor; and Lester Casida, retired professor of microbiology at Pennsylvania State University, received a patent for "Non-Obligate Predatory Bacterium Burkholderia Casidae and Uses Thereof (6,689,357)," which is licensed to Dominion BioSciences. The bacterium would be used in antimicrobial compounds to control microbial diseases of plants.

A patent for "Bio-Chip, Photo-luminescent Methods for Identifying Biological Material, and Apparatuses for Use with Such Methods and Bio-Chips (6,706,479)," invented by Ravi Saraf, former associate professor of chemical engineering at Virginia Tech, now Lowell E. & Betty Anderson Professor of Engineering at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, and Sanjun Niu, who received his Ph.D. in chemical engineering from Virginia Tech in 2004, has been licensed to Carilion Biomedical Institute (CBI). CBI has formed Optimetrics, a small Virginia company, to commercialize the technology. The sensor is able to detect a specific biological agent in concentrations lower than one part per billion (femoto-molar levels) in water and blood. Saraf's chip for untagged biomolecule sequencing is new generation micro array technology that can detect target DNA, RNA, or proteins. "The main advantages of the DNA-Chip, where the key sensing component is the same material coffee cups are made of, is the low cost and same read-out platform as the current technology," Saraf said. As a potentially portable unit, it will allow sophisticated diagnosis in the field.

Virginia Tech Chemistry professor Paul Carlier and Mayo Clinic Pharmacology professor Elliott Richelson received a patent for "Amine Compounds and Inhibiting Neurotransmitter Reuptake (6,700,018)." Chemicals called neurotransmitters mediate neuron-to-neuron communication in the brain. An imbalance in the amount of the neurotransmitters serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine can cause serious clinical manifestations, such as depression and anxiety. Such an imbalance may occur when not enough neurotransmitter is made and released from presynaptic neurons, or if the reuptake of neurotransmitters by these presynaptic neurons is too rapid. The patent describes amine compounds that have the unusual property of potently inhibiting the reuptake of serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine. Current FDA-approved antidepressant drugs do not exhibit this wide-spectrum behavior. Thus the compounds described in the patent may be useful for treating classes of depression and anxiety that are resistant to existing medications. The patent is assigned to VTIP and the Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research.

"Pharmaceutical Preparations of Bioactive Substances Extracted from Natural Sources (6,746,695)," developed by Virginia Tech Chemistry professor Larry Taylor and Research Scientist Mehdi Ashraf-Khorassani from materials provided by Michael Z. Martin of Armadillo Pharmaceuticals of San Diego, which then licensed the process. Martin provided Kava root and the Virginia Tech scientists developed a process using carbon dioxide as a supercritical fluid to separate kava lactones from Kava root, thus avoiding the use of toxic solvents. Kava root has been used by the people of the South Pacific in a drink to induce relaxation, and is believed to have other benefits.

Chemistry professor Judy Riffle, former student Janice Paige Phillips, and James P. Dailey of Erie (Pa.) Retinal Surgery received a patent for "Magnetic fluids (6,749,844)," for treating retinal detachment, which is caused by fluid under the retina. The invention calls for injecting biocompatible magnetic fluid inside the eye and using a magnetized scleral buckle to pull the fluid to a specific site and close the hole in the retina. The patent is shared by VTIP and Dailey and licensed to NanoMedics. Phillips, a 1998 Ph.D. graduate in chemistry, is now with Luna Innovations of Blacksburg.

The patent, "Seaweed Supplement Diet for Enhancing Immune Response in Mammals and Poultry (6,764,691)," was awarded to Joseph Fontenot, a Virginia Tech animal sciences professor; Korinn Saker, associate professor in clinical nutrition in the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine at Virginia Tech, and Texas Tech professors Vivien Allen, a former Virginia Tech's agronomy professor, and Kevin Pond. It is a continuation and expansion of a previous patent. Endophyte-infected fescue causes cattle to abort. Some years ago, Virginia Tech and Texas Tech researchers discovered that if fescue pastures are treated with seaweed supplement, the animals do not abort and general disease resistance improves. Subsequently, a seaweed meal was developed as a feed additive, an injection was developed, and the range of livestock increased to pigs and poultry, all with good results. The compound is licensed to Acadian Seaplants Limited.

The patent, "Over-Expressing Homologous Antigen Vaccine and a method of Making the Same (6,811,787)," is an improved vaccine against Brucella in animals and humans, developed by Gerhardt Schurig, dean of the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine, Lynette Corbeil of the University of California at San Diego (UCSD), Virginia Tech Professor of Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology Nammalwar Sriranganathan; former Virginia Tech Postdoctoral Associates Ramesh Vemulapalli, now at Purdue University, and Silvio Cravero of Republica, Argentina; and Virginia Tech Professor of Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology Stephen Boyle. It is assigned to VTIP and USCD and licensed to Veterinary Technologies Corp., located at the Virginia Tech Corporate Research Center.

Vibration controls, materials sensor, smaller antennas, and a book bag

The remaining patents are for a range of products developed by researchers in the Colleges of Engineering, Science, and Architecture and Urban Studies.

The "Active-Passive Absorber for Vibration and Sound Radiation Control (6,700,304)" was developed by Virginia Tech mechanical engineering professor Chris Fuller and Pierre Cambou of Lyon, France, who received his Virginia Tech master's degree in mechanical engineering in 1998. The distributed vibration and sound dampener can be used in both a passive and active mode in a lightweight, conformal configuration. It is suitable for use in aircraft, automotive, and other applications with vibrating panel like structures. It is licensed to ESI/Vibro-Acoustic Sciences and NEVA Associates.

An "Apparatus and Method for Volumetric Dilatometry (6,718,281)" was developed by Virginia Tech chemistry professor Herve Marand and graduate students Paul Duncan of Vienna, Va., in electrical and computer engineering, Sean Christian of Woodbridge, Va., in chemistry, and Kevin Shinpaugh of Blacksburg, in aerospace and ocean engineering. The High Precision Dilatometer enables very accurate measurement of the volume and/or density of solid materials as a function of time or temperature. It offers increased precision and accuracy of measurement based on the interference of light waves, Marand said. "Such equipment is of great use in materials research," he said. It is licensed to Airak of Ashburn, Va., a company started by Duncan while he was a student. Duncan, who is president of Airak, will receive his master's degree in 2005. Christian is chief operating officer at Stellar Net of Tampa. Shinpaugh is director of research and cluster computing at Virginia Tech.

The "Method and Apparatus for Emission Lithography Using Patterened Emitter (6,740,895)" was developed by former graduate student In Kyeong Yoo of Suwon, Korea, who received his Ph.D. at Virginia Tech and was a research scientist in materials engineering science from 1991 to 1993. The invention allows for nano-scale lithography. It is licensed to the Samsung Advanced Institute of Technology.

The "Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Tube Cleaner (D490,532)" was invented by Frans Van Damme, supervisor of the Virginia Tech Glass Instruments Laboratory from 1967 until his death in 2002. He also taught advanced and intermediate scientific glass working.

A "Wideband, Compact Planar Inverted-F Antenna (PIFA) (6,795,028)" was invented by former graduate student Minh-Chau Huynh of Belgium and Virginia Tech professor of electrical and computer engineering Warren Stutzman. Wireless communication devices, such as telephones, laptop computers, and other equipment, are starting to use multiple radio frequency bands, both licensed and unlicensed bands, for voice and data communications. As these devices become smaller, the challenge is to design smaller antennas that support multiple frequency bands simultaneously. The wideband, compact (WC-PIFA) is just such an antenna. It evolved from the Planar Inverted F- Antenna that has been widely used for many years, but which is large and has limited bandwidth, about 10 percent. The WC-PIFA has 50 percent bandwidth and is very compact, permitting it to be embedded inside devices. In addition, the WC-PIFA can be inexpensively manufactured by stamping and folding metal. Molex has a non-exclusive license. Huynh received his Ph.D. in electrical and computer engineering in December 2004 and is employed by Sony Ericsson in Raleigh, N.C.

Mitzi Vernon, associate professor of industrial design in the College of Architecture and Urban Studies at Virginia Tech, and Tanya Blasko, who received her master's degree in industrial design in 2002 and is now with Proctor and Gamble in Cincinnati, received patent 6,802,348 for a book bag for children that allows them to read books while traveling. "It has a detachable wallet that holds the book itself. A book can be read without removing it, and kids can have multiple wallets with different books in them," said Vernon, who designed the books as part of her National Science Foundation (NSF)-funded interCONNECTIONS™ project. Her book series helps middle school girls connect to abstract phenomena at an early age, thus allowing them more accessibility and comfort in scientific and engineering fields. "The books explain abstract concepts, such as magnetic fields, through metaphor and imagery, which is more familiar to children," Vernon said. She received an NSF planning grant in January 2005 to create a life-size traveling exhibit of the first book in the series.