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Brains behind big — and profitable — ideas get their due

The National Academy of Inventors spotlights the University of South Florida's many entrepreneurial faculty members.

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  • | 6:00 a.m. August 30, 2019
Dr. Robert Frisina works with a student in his lab at USF. Courtesy photo.
Dr. Robert Frisina works with a student in his lab at USF. Courtesy photo.
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Everyone knows who invented the light bulb, the telephone, the polio vaccine and other monumental achievements of human inquisitiveness. But for every Thomas Edison or Alexander Graham Bell, there are hundreds, maybe thousands, of other inventors who will likely never be household names despite bringing influential products to market.

The National Academy of Inventors, founded in 2010, aims to change that. Its latest class of senior members includes five University of South Florida faculty members — the most of any university in the country.

Robert Frisina, chairman of USF’s biomedical engineering department and a distinguished professor of medical engineering, says it’s not only a great honor to be chosen for NAI membership, but that it's also an indication of the rising value placed on entrepreneurial faculty members whose research can be commercialized.

“With the new USF president (Steve Currall) coming in, we’ve discussed what makes a great university, and one of the attributes is tech transfer, startup companies and patents," he says. "We’re pretty highly ranked in terms of the number of patents relative to other universities in the world.”

Decades ago, Frisina patented hearing aid technology that can greatly reduce background noise — an idea successfully commercialized by a few startups, he tells Coffee Talk. “We sold maybe 7,000-8,000 hearing aids.”

Today, the ability to spin research into successful products, services and even entire companies has become a key factor in the hiring process at USF. In Frisina’s department, “We take into account patents and entrepreneurial activities when we hire people,” he says.



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