Multiplying the Impact of UArizona Innovations

May 25, 2021

Innovative software, tools and programs of the University of Arizona affect the lives of millions around the world every day, all through a process known as "non-exclusive licensing."

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Spencer Gorin (far right) facilitates The Buzz program for an audience of students.
Photo courtesy of Spencer Gorin Spencer Gorin (far right) facilitates The Buzz program for an audience of students.

When we think about innovative work at the University of Arizona and how it generates innovations, we might think of tangible things like devices to improve agriculture or medications for cancer or new kinds of lasers or sensors. Since 2013 and the creation of Tech Launch Arizona, or TLA, the UArizona office that commercializes inventions stemming from research, the university has been growing its impact by working with faculty, researchers and staff to identify and develop inventions, and license them to companies. Those companies then make them available to the world as products to improve lives and make the world a better place.

In most cases when a company licenses an invention, they do so to secure their unique opportunity in the marketplace; they sign an exclusive license, which gives them the sole rights to use the invention for a period of time and ensures that their product will be one-of-a-kind. This exclusivity is vital in many cases, especially when significant investment will be required to bring the invention to market.

But exclusivity is not always the goal.

“Ultimately our mission is to generate the most impact we can from UArizona innovation, and sometimes the best way to do that is to make it available to as many people and organizations as possible,” says Doug Hockstad, TLA assistant vice president.

In other words, often the best – and most impactful – path for an invention is to license it over and over again to as many entities as possible. These “multi-use” technologies come in many forms, from software to research or teaching tools to multimedia content like video and audio productions.

Securing Software for Millions of Consumers

Just like any other innovation, software has value that comes from what it can do for users, making processes faster, better, or cheaper. But if a software program is just lines of code, how can the owner prevent others from copying it and using it for free?

UArizona Computer Science Professor Christian Collberg is working on mitigating that problem. He is the lead developer behind Tigress, a program that according to his website, “is a diversifying virtualizer/obfuscator…that supports many defenses against both static and dynamic reverse engineering and de-virtualization attacks.”

While that description itself might seem obfuscated, the concept is quite straightforward: Tigress takes computer code and renders it illegible. In other words, it protects “assets” (algorithms, designs, cryptographic keys, music, videos, passwords, and the software itself) in computer software from being stolen and used without authorization.  

Working with Collberg, TLA made Tigress available for license to the public. Today it is being used by companies worldwide, from small, specialized startups to large telecommunications and financial technology companies that serve millions of customers. Academics also use it as an “attack target” to evaluate the security of their own software analysis tools, such as those used in virus protection software

“It has been rewarding to see it succeed as a tool for academic researchers,” said Collberg, “but more so, it is exciting to see it succeed commercially, and to know that out there in the real world software is running that has been protected by our solution.”

Helping Thousands of College Students Navigate Party Culture and Thrive

Spencer Gorin, Rn, BSN, BA, is a UArizona Campus Health program specialist focused on alcohol and substance awareness. His work focuses on educating students around topics such as alcohol education, anti-hazing, healthy masculinity, and human relationships. Based on his research, he developed The Buzz as a fun, game-oriented, interactive alcohol education presentation for high school and college students.

The feedback from students during the sessions and in follow-up survey data have shown the program to be both enjoyable and effective. In a 2014 study, 92% of students surveyed reported that The Buzz was “better or much better” than other alcohol education programs, and 89% said that it would cause them to think differently about their alcohol use.

Made possible by TLA, The Buzz is commercially available and has been licensed to schools, universities, and health organizations around the country. Today the growing list of users includes Alpha Phi International, Tulane University, Washington University St. Louis, Rutgers University, Seton Hall University, and others, and the program has impacted the drinking habits of thousands of college students.

“As someone who believes that we all should make the world a better place, I am deeply gratified that The Buzz has a significant impact on the lives of the participants,” said Gorin, who notes that the well-documented success from attending The Buzz, lending to a substantial reduction in consumption behaviors, also contributes to participants' overall health, success, wellness, and happiness.

“Working with TLA adds greater outreach potential,” he said. “This personally brings me joy.”

ASEX: The Gold Standard for Measuring Sexual Disfunction

The Arizona Sexual Experience scale or “ASEX” resulted from the research of former UArizona psychiatry professor Pedro Delgado, M.D. and his collaborators, Cynthia McGahuey, Alan Gelenberg, Cindi Laukes, Francisco Moreno, Katherine McKnight, and Rachel Manber.

Pharmaceutical companies want to be certain their products do not cause or lead to sexual dysfunction, but for many years quantification of sexual dysfunction was limited by a lack of validated, user-friendly scales. To address this problem, in 2000 Dr. Delgado and his team developed the Arizona Sexual Experiences Scale (ASEX), a five-item rating scale that quantifies sex drive and based on specific physical and psychological response measures.

While it was originally developed for psychiatric patient evaluation, ASEX today represents the standard scale in the industry for testing sexual disfunction across a variety of patient populations. Pharmaceutical companies use it as a component during clinical studies to help them understand how medications under development interact with sexual function. To date, the UArizona has licensed the scale over a hundred times, and it has been used by most major pharmaceutical companies around the globe.

From Media to Mobile

Considering all the solutions and content the UArizona has licensed – and is developing – the reach of these non-exclusively licensed solutions is vast. New UArizona mobile apps are constantly being developed and released. Content from Arizona Public Media is also often requested and licensed to other entities, especially AZPM’s national counterpart, American Public Media.

“We’ve done a lot of media licensing over many years, decades, really,” said Lewis Humphreys, TLA senior licensing manager for software and IT. “One of our most frequent licensees has been American Public Television, who manages licensing for the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS). That’s the pathway we use to get our great UArizona-developed programming out to the world.”

Since 2014, the UArizona has completed 46 licenses for media content from AZPM.

TLA also heads up licensing for mobile apps developed at the university, such as the popular science education tool Chemistry By Design, created by Professor Jon Njardarson of the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry and the BIO5 Institute, which has been downloaded over 150,000 times since it was launched in 2013. All told since 2014, TLA has facilitated the launch of 45 UArizona mobile apps.

While it might be a challenge to characterize the complete and varied scope of the impact that UArizona has had on the world through its content, software, and research tools, the ripples created by the innovative campus community, through research, invention, and creativity, when brought to the world through licensing pathways are undeniable.

“People don’t realize it, but these licenses are the mechanism whereby all these innovations make their way out into the world,” said Director of Licensing Rakhi Gibbons. “It’s how they are able to be used to protect us, to entertain and educate us, to improve our health and well-being, and so much more.”

Paul Tumarkin, Assistant Director, Marketing & Communications