29 October 2008

One of the most successful technologies developed at The University of Queensland has entered a new phase and achieved its goal of assuming a world-wide market presence in less than a decade.

Fultec Semiconductor Inc was established by UQ’s main commercialisation company UniQuest in 2001 to develop an innovative electronic component that protects sensitive complex electronic circuits from voltage surges caused by electrical strikes and equipment malfunctions.

Since then, Fultec’s world-first Transient Blocking Unit (TBU) technology has been used in the over-voltage and over-current protection of telecommunication and data communications systems around the world, offering superior performance and input at lower cost than conventional technologies.

Fultec recently sold its TBU assets to Bourns Inc., a leading manufacturer and supplier of circuit protection solutions, based in California, USA. The sale represents a major milestone for the company and signifies the end of its journey through UniQuest’s commercialisation pipeline.

“This is an excellent example of a technology which started as an idea in a PhD thesis being successfully commercialised and taken to global markets by UniQuest, overcoming a number of roadblocks on the way and finally ending with a strategic partnership which will ensure that the product achieves its full potential,” the UniQuest Managing Director, David Henderson said.

The Fultec concept was first created in the mid-1990s by Richard Harris, an Electrical Engineering PhD student supervised by Professor Mat Darveniza, UQ’s high voltage/lightning specialist. Dr Harris’s thesis proposed a totally new form of surge protection circuit, which was subsequently patented by UniQuest in 1993.

“UniQuest sought a commercial partner for several years, in Australia and overseas. However, as with all technologies representing a paradigm change, there was considerable resistance from the industry to developing this technology,” Mr Henderson said.

“Eventually, Uniseed’s $840,000 investment in the fledgling company enabled prototyping of Fultec's surge protection devices. After successful lab testing, the technology was field-tested on the Cairns SkyRail to protect the company’s communication systems from surges caused by lightning strikes. The TBU was a great success and SkyRail ordered more prototypes to install as working units on its system.”

In 2003 a further $1M from the Allen & Buckeridge Emerging Technologies Fund and the appointment of CEO Steve McRae gave impetus to taking the project overseas. Australia lacked the technical capability to design, prototype and develop the sophisticated semiconductor device that TBU required, so the company moved to the US where it attracted the interest of leading venture capital firm, Mayfield.

Mayfield brought in a second West Coast firm, CommVentures, and together with Allan and Buckeridge and Uniseed they made a US$7.8M investment to rapidly develop the product.

With Fultec having proven up the technology and its market potential, the initial industry resistance was rapidly overcome and the company’s products have been sold to equipment manufacturers around the world for use in high speed voice and data-over-broadband applications.

“The sale to Bourns represents a strategic acquisition by a leading telecommunications surge protection company with wide reaching distribution channels into global markets, a strong financial base and a capability to manufacture and distribute the Fultec product in large numbers,” Mr Henderson said.

“We can expect in the future to see a TBU entering daily use around the world, including Australia. It’s a great achievement for Dr Harris and everyone who has played a role in Fultec’s development, and an inspiration to all university-based innovators.”

Media inquiries: UniQuest - Leanne Wyvill (3365 4037, 0409 767 199)

About UniQuest
UniQuest is widely recognised as one of Australia’s largest and most successful university commercialisation groups. Established in 1984, UniQuest fosters links between its university commercialisation partners and the financial and entrepreneurial resources of industry, business and government. UniQuest commercialises the innovative research, expertise and technologies developed at The University of Queensland, University of Wollongong, University of Technology Sydney, James Cook University and the Mater Medical Research Institute. Its extensive intellectual property and asset portfolio includes more than 1,500 patents and 50 companies resulting from research institution-based discoveries and expertise. www.uniquest.com.au