The advanced reductive adsorbent was developed as a result of joint efforts of the researchers of St Petersburg University and the Christian Albrecht University in Kiel, Germany.
The invention is the most substantial applied achievement to date and a result of a two-year cooperation project between St Petersburg University crystallographers and their colleagues from Kiel. The work was completed in 2009. The first publication was released in one of the leading chemistry journals — the Journal of the American Chemical Society (JACS), shortly after the international patent application. The input of each party was proportionate to the aggregate creative input of its authors: the Russian team included six people, whereas the German University was represented by one researcher. Therefore, the share of St Petersburg University in the project was 85%; the University shared profits and costs accordingly. The departments responsible for legal protection and commercialisation of university research initially focused on international patenting. Since the scientific project was financed by Kiel University, it undertook the commitment to prepare and submit the international patent application under the PCT (2010). St Petersburg University would later compensate them for their share of expenses from the revenues generated by the commercialisation of the invention.
The research is based on the chemical properties of hydrazine. This agent is widely used in various areas of chemistry and pharmacology. However, hydrazine is very toxic and, when released, it can cause many environmental problems. However, it also has a lot of useful properties. In this case the scientists of St Petersburg University and Kiel University noticed the ability of hydrazine to restore and bind different chemical elements, in particular metals. To preserve the required properties and minimise the negative impacts of hydrazine, the team of scientists coordinated by Sergey Krivovichev, Professor of St Petersburg University, developed a layered titanium dioxide nanomaterial loaded with hydrazine molecules. In its natural state, hydrazine is an inflammable liquid but, being placed into such a “nano-container”, it ceases to be a liquid and becomes chemically bonded to titanium dioxide with no loss of reactivity. As a result, the scientists managed to produce an adsorbent combining chemical functionality of hydrazine and the stability of titanium dioxide.
One application of the new material may be the decontamination of hazardous substances in the environment.
The project initially focused on solving the problems of mercury disposal. During invention patenting in the EU, German colleagues managed to attract the interest of German entrepreneurs. However, due to a difficult economic situation, the project was not implemented. Russia, from the very beginning, focused not on mercury decontamination, but on the clean-up of radioactive wastes, and efforts were made in this direction. Now, the layered hydrazinium titanate is being tested in Japan to clean up radioactive contaminants at Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. The tests showed that the material developed by crystallographers was a rather successful solution for removing most radionuclides from liquid waste. Several other countries made an inquiry about the application of this technology. Another potential client is the State Atomic Energy Corporation ROSATOM. Currently, there are negotiations with various Russian nuclear power stations. However, without relevant regulations, it would be rather difficult to employ new technologies in the field of atomic energy.
Nevertheless, during the process of patenting the invention in the EU, our German partners experienced a number of difficulties. Unlike St Petersburg University, the vast majority of universities around the world have no possibility to have in-house patent attorneys. Kiel University is no exception. As the university does not have a specialised unit for dealing with issues related to legal protection and use of intellectual property, their interests are represented by the Agency for Implementation and Employment of Patents (Patentverwertungsagentur, a patent marketing agency) of Schleswig-Holstein. The application process turned out to be complex and lengthy and, despite continuous interaction and consultations with the authors of invention, the European Patent Office indicated a number of violations in the application which prevented the patent being granted. German partners had no opportunity to correct these violations within the period of time established by applicable legislation. However, this did not affect the possibility of transferring the international patent application into Russia. Thirty months later, in accordance with the PCT procedure, the international application was submitted to the Federal Institute of Industrial Property (FIPS). As the documentation still had serious defects at the time of its finalisation, St Petersburg University faced the urgent challenge to bring it into line with the international and national legislation. The observations that FIPS made regarding violations in the application were rather serious. Some of them concerned the conditions of patentability of the invention; should the University fail to remedy these violations, it could have lost its right to patent. Another difficulty was that when making amendments to the already submitted application, they could not go beyond the scope of already submitted materials. Despite all this, after half a year of work with the authors of the invention, the document was brought into conformity with all legislative requirements.
St Petersburg University received the Russian Federation patent for the invention “Layered titanates, methods for production and use thereof”
At the beginning of invention patenting in Russia, St Petersburg University started looking for a partner for industrial development, taking into account the experience of Kiel University in commercialisation. By the time the University had been granted the patent, a suitable partner was found. With the consent of Kiel University and after extensive and thorough negotiations, which included adsorbent performance verification, St Petersburg University signed a mutually beneficial licensing agreement with Socium Company, which became the sole partner (exclusive licence) in 2017. The company is entitled to use the invention until the expiry of the patent in 2030, while St Petersburg University receives annual remuneration proportionate to the amount of adsorbent produced and sold. For Socium, the signing of the licensing agreement involved serious technological risks. At the time the patent was granted, St Petersburg University could only offer the technology tested in a laboratory, where it is possible to produce the adsorbent in incomparably smaller amounts than necessary for industrial needs. It is a common problem with university developments, as universities cannot be engaged in industrial activities. That is why Socium has to scale-up the technology. To accelerate the industrial production launch, the company signed an agreement with the Khlopin Radium Institute for the development of semi-industrial plant to produce layered titanates. St Petersburg University experts are invited to take part in its finalisation.
A St Petersburg University worker is not a patentee, but is entitled to remuneration as his/her work led to the emergence of a new intangible asset of the employer. As the University makes profits on the invention, the payment to a worker is not to be regarded as motivational, but is connected to the result of his/her work. It is a guarantee for all the authors to receive remuneration.
Viktor Dorokhin, Acting Head of the Main Department for Intellectual Property Use and Protection
This is one of the most ambitious and successful initiatives to introduce the results of scientific research to industry, but not the only one. Lately, the University has undertaken complex measures to support and promote innovative activities, including a review of incentive schemes for active scientists. Authors of inventions and utility models receive remuneration for their creation. Within two months after the patent is granted, St Petersburg University, in accordance with established procedure, shall pay the team of authors a fixed sum of money from its budget: 100 thousand roubles for the authors of inventions and 50 thousand roubles for the authors of utility models. To motivate the authors to continue to work after the patenting procedure is completed, the University adopted a temporary provision to pay a share of the licensing remuneration to the scientists and academic staff. Besides their salary and the one-off payment, the authors will receive up to half of the profits generated by the University. In comparison, in accordance with a government resolution, the minimum financial remuneration is 15%. On average, scientists and inventors in Russian and foreign universities are paid about a third of the university remuneration.