A few years ago, nurses Michael Howlett and James Mercer began patenting concepts for catheters that would block the transmission of pathogens into patients' bloodstream -- the cause of infections that cause up to 100,000 preventable deaths a year.
"We're providers, we take cake of patients and we saw a need for a device that would prevent catheter-related infections. We designed a prototype and got a provisional patent, then looked for someone to turn it into a reality," said Howlett, who works with Mercer at Salt Lake City's VA Hospital. "It's hard for a couple little guys to get to the titans of industry."
Instead they went to University of Utah biomedical engineers who developed their ideas into marketable products and fledged a company, Catheter Connections, one of 20 the U. spun off in 2008.
This young company, which doesn't even have an office yet, is a reason the U. now leads the nation in spinning off companies, finally catching No. 1 Massachusetts Institute of Technology, one of the nation's premier research centers.
The U. performs well not only in creating companies, but also in filing patents (119), patents awarded (33) and generating revenue from licensing technology ($26.2 million), according to 2008 rankings released Tuesday by the Association of University Technology Managers, or AUTM (pronounced "autumn").
U. officials say the U. has surpassed its Massachusetts rival in fiscal year 2009 with 23 spin-offs, versus MIT's 20.