WMU News

P&G donates rights to more than 100 patents to WMU

March 30, 2000

KALAMAZOO -- While organizations around the nation are encouraging employees to "think outside the box," a gift from Procter & Gamble is encouraging WMU researchers to take a look at the box itself.

Consumer product giant P&G announced today (March 30) a donation of rights to more than 100 pending global patents for Enhanced Paperboard Technology to the Paper Technology Foundation Inc. at the University.

The announcement was made in a packed news conference at WMU's Fetzer Center, with Michigan Gov. John M. Engler delivering a brief address.

"What we're witnessing today is something that is pretty special and something I hope might become a regular occurrence in Michigan," Engler said. "It is the teaming up of very impressive corporate partners with some of America's very best research universities, the goal being to further research, develop and market new technologies."

Enhanced Paperboard Technology is a more cost-effective method for producing strong, humidity-resistant linerboard, which is used to make the corrugated containers widely used in product shipping.

Once it is further developed and commercialized by University researchers, Enhanced Paperboard Technology could result in an industry cost savings of nearly half a billion dollars annually. WMU will realize all future financial benefits from commercializing the technology.

Why would P&G donate a viable and potentially profitable technology? According to P&G Chief Technology Officer Gordon Brunner, the company has a financial stake in seeing the invention developed quickly.

"At P&G, we're driven by innovation," Brunner said when announcing the gift. "Each year we invest over $1.7 billion in research and development, and are awarded about 3,000 patents. We currently have over 25,000 patents in our portfolio. Very simply, we invent more innovative technologies than we can develop.

"WMU's paper technology program is uniquely qualified to bring this packaging technology to market quickly. Since P&G spends about $400 million a year on shipping containers, it makes good sense to donate this technology to WMU so it can develop Enhanced Paperboard Technology to provide opportunities for companies like us to benefit from future cost savings. WMU is in the paper business, and P&G is in the business of creating and improving consumer products. It's a win-win situation."

WMU researchers say the use of the technology and its potential economic impact are not limited to the packaging or linerboard industries. Future applications could include such products as building materials, temporary disaster housing and automobile insulation-anything that requires strong, lightweight, humidity-resistant material. Widespread use of the technology also has the potential to create new markets for agricultural by-products that researchers believe could become key ingredients of the new material.

"We've said many times that creating University/corporate partnerships is the key not only for the future success of our University, but also for the economic development and well-being of the citizens we serve," said President Floyd in accepting the gift. "We are delighted at the opportunities this gift will create. Not only will this allow one of our top programs to expand its impact, it also will mean we can offer our students a chance to be involved in developing cutting-edge technology."

Enhanced Paperboard Technology

Enhanced Paperboard Technology involves substituting resins and calcium lignosulfonates, which are natural by-products of the paper pulping process, for part of the wood fiber typically used in linerboard production. The resulting material is strengthened so much that enhanced 35-lb. linerboard can be substituted for packaging that currently requires the stronger 55-lb. linerboard. This saves 25 percent of the wood pulp that would ordinarily be used for the stronger box.

Paperboard products, which include linerboard, comprise nearly 60 percent of the paper industry, which is the nation's fifth-largest industry. In Michigan, the paper industry accounts for 9 percent of the state's workforce, making it the fourth-largest industry in the state.

According to Thomas Joyce, chairperson of paper and printing science and engineering, Enhanced Paperboard Technology could have a significant impact on the paper industry and will enhance WMU's global reputation. In addition, the work could lead to new ties with papermakers, chemical suppliers and equipment manufacturers. One of the initiative's other major effects, he said, will be its impact on student recruiting.

"The revenue that will eventually be realized from this P&G technology donation will be used to enhance our scholarship funding," Joyce said. "I can think of nothing I'd like to see more than having 100 full-ride scholarships to offer to talented students headed for careers in the paper industry."

Other innovations to find new homes

The March 30 announcement, Brunner said, is an example of Procter & Gamble's long-term strategic initiative to open its technology vault. P&G uses independent experts to match the best technologies with the best partners. Some technologies, he noted, will be donated and others will be licensed or sold.
"In the case of Enhanced Paperboard, by donating the patents to WMU, the technology will be developed faster than if it were licensed," said Brunner. "In fact, we want to be one of WMU's first customers."
Brunner noted there are "dozens and dozens of fine universities and research institutions" to whom the company could have donated the technology. To find the perfect fit, he said, an independent expert was hired to conduct an intensive search and recommend the best university candidate to develop and commercialize the technology quickly.
"We couldn't be happier to find this well-deserving university just a state away from our world headquarters," Brunner said. "Western Michigan University clearly is at the cutting edge of paper science in the world today."

About Procter & Gamble

P&G markets more than 300 brands to nearly five billion consumers in more than 140 countries. These brands include Crest, Tide, Pantene, Pampers, Oil of Olay, Vicks and Pringles. P&G, which has its headquarters in Cincinnati, has operations in 70 countries and employs more than 110,000 people. In fiscal year 1998-99, its sales were $38 billion.

Media contact: Cheryl Roland, 616 387-8400, cheryl.roland@wmich.edu

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