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Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation

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The Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation was established in 1925.

The Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation is the independent nonprofit technology transfer organization serving the University of Wisconsin–Madison and Morgridge Institute for Research. It provides significant research support, granting tens of millions of dollars to the university each year and contributing to the university's "margin of excellence".


WARF was founded in 1925 to manage a discovery by Harry Steenbock, who invented the process for using ultraviolet radiation to add vitamin D to milk and other foods. Rather than leaving the invention unpatented—then the standard practice for university inventions—Steenbock used $300 of his own money to file for a patent. He received commercial interest from Quaker Oats but declined the company's initial offer.

Instead, Steenbock sought a way to protect discoveries made by UW-Madison faculty, ensure use of the ideas for public benefit and bring any financial gains back to the university. His concept gained support from Harry L. Russell, dean of the College of Agriculture, and Charles Sumner Slichter, dean of the Graduate School.

Slichter began soliciting the interest and financial support of wealthy UW-Madison alumni acquaintances in Chicago and New York. He gained a substantial sum in verbal pledges from a number of alumni, nine of whom would eventually contribute $100 each.

The UW Board of Regents approved the plan on June 22, 1925, and the organization's charter was filed with the Secretary of State of Wisconsin on November 14 that same year. The organization was named the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation to reflect both its governing body of five UW–Madison alumni and its mission to promote, encourage and aid scientific investigation and research at UW-Madison.[1]

Since its founding, WARF has helped steward the cycle of research, discovery, commercialization and investment for UW–Madison. Through its patenting and licensing efforts, WARF enables university innovations to advance from the lab to the marketplace.

Each year, WARF contributes more than $70 million to fund additional UW–Madison research. The university refers to WARF's annual gifts as its "margin of excellence" funding.[2] WARF currently licenses nearly 100 UW–Madison technologies each year. As of 2014, WARF had an endowment of $2.6 billion.[3]

WARF also works in partnership with a variety of other entities including WiSys Technology Foundation, WiCell Research Institute and the Morgridge Institute for Research.

WARF inventions[edit]

From the early discoveries related to vitamin D and development of the blood thinner WARFarin to the derivation of stem cells and algorithms that speed computer processing, UW–Madison inventions have changed lives.[4][5][6]

Vitamin D[edit]

In 1923, Harry Steenbock and James Cockwell discovered exposure to ultraviolet light increased the Vitamin D concentration in food. After discovering that irradiated rat food cured the rats of rickets, Steenbock sought a patent. Steenbock then assigned the patent to the newly established Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation. WARF then licensed the technology to Quaker Oats for use in their breakfast cereals. In addition, WARF licensed the technology for use as a pharmaceutical, Viosterol.[7] WARF's commercialization of Vitamin D culminated in its enrichment of milk.

By the time the patent expired in 1945, rickets was all but nonexistent.

Through continued innovations from Hector DeLuca, vitamin D remains an important part of WARF's technology portfolio.[8]


Warfarin, also known as Coumadin, is named for WARF, and the story of its discovery is emblematic of the "Wisconsin Idea" and the relationship of the university to the Wisconsin public. In 1933 a farmer from Deer Park showed up unannounced at the School of Agriculture and walked into a professor's laboratory with a milk can full of blood which would not coagulate. In his truck, he had also brought a dead heifer and some spoiled clover hay. He wanted to know what had killed his cow. In 1941, Karl Paul Link successfully isolated the anticoagulant factor, which initially found commercial application as a rodent-killer.[9] Warfarin is one of the most widely prescribed medicines in the world,[10] [11] used in vascular and heart disease to prevent stroke and thrombosis.

Stem cells[edit]

More recently, WARF was assigned the patents for non-human primate and human embryonic stem cells. The stem cells were first isolated and purified by James Thomson in 1998.[12]

Startup companies[edit]

WARF has also helped establish more than 60 startup companies including Imago, Mirus Bio, Nimblegen, Tomotherapy, Deltanoid Pharmaceuticals, Quinntessence, Neoclone, Silatronix, Third Wave Technologies, Cambria Biosciences, and OpGen, Inc.

Patent litigation[edit]

WARF was called a "patent troll" by Business Insider, which included WARF in a list of the "most fearsome" of them. The magazine noted that while many universities could be described as "patent trolls", WARF was singled out because of the large number of patents it held, and because of its aggressive practice of suing companies, who allegedly use the patented technology, instead of trying to find someone to commercialize a new technology. A WARF spokesperson denied that the group acted as a non-practicing entity, explaining that "our whole purpose for being is to bring inventions from the university into the world into practical use."[13][14][15] Nevertheless, some journalists noted that, instead of pursuing the goals of the Bayh–Dole Act to commercialize unused university patents, WARF often extorts patent licensing fees from businesses, who have been using the alleged technology, often long before the patent on this technology was filed, but who find, that it costs less to pay the extorted licensing fee than to go to court.[16][17]

In 2014, WARF filed a lawsuit against Apple Inc., alleging that the latter had infringed US 5781752 , "Table based data speculation circuit for parallel processing computer", a method of increasing the efficiency of integrated circuits on its Apple A7 and Apple A8 system-on-chip products, and asking for US$862 million as a reasonable royalty. In October 2015, a jury found Apple liable;[18] however, the infringement was found inadvertent, and as such, the court reduced the payment to $234 million. However, in July 2017, the judge added an interest payment to this amount and increased the award to $506 million.[19] On appeal, Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit overturned the verdict of the lower court, and concluded that Apple did not infringe WARF's patents. The SCOTUS denied WARF's writ of certiorari, thus affirming the CAFC's ruling.


  1. ^ Apple, Rima D. (September 1989). "Patenting University Research: Harry Steenbock and the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation". Isis. 80 (3): 374–394. doi:10.1086/355081. PMID 2681051. S2CID 46382201.
  2. ^ Muehl, Ann. "WARF grants more than $70 million to support UW-Madison". UW-Madison. Retrieved 29 January 2015.
  3. ^ "WARF Endowment". WARF. Retrieved 29 January 2015.
  4. ^ Tenenbaum, David. "Innovation marks UW-Madison contribution to vitamins, drugs, medical supplies". UW-Madison. Retrieved 24 February 2015.
  5. ^ "More than eight decades in the making, partnership still going strong". WARF. Retrieved 24 February 2015.
  6. ^ Kerber, Andrew. "Decades of Discovery". Wisconsin Engineer. Retrieved 24 February 2015.
  7. ^ Shah, Angela (20 December 2013). "Q&A: How WARF Plans to Stay Relevant in Lean Times for Tech Transfer". Xconomy. Retrieved 24 February 2015.
  8. ^ Miller, Nicole (12 October 2012). "Vitamin D–The Hype and the Hope". Grow. Retrieved 24 February 2015.
  9. ^ Meek, Thomas (27 June 2013). "This month in 1939: How dead cattle led to the discovery of warfarin". PMLiVE. Retrieved 24 February 2015.
  10. ^ Ming-Shien Wen and Ming Ta Michael Lee. "Warfarin Pharmacogenetics: New Life for an Old Drug". Acta Cardiologica Sinica, 29(3) (May 2013): 235–242. "has now become the most commonly prescribed oral anticoagulant for the prevention of thromboembolism in patients with deep vein thrombosis, atrial fibrillation, or prosthetic heart valve replacement"
  11. ^ Munir Pirmohamed. "Warfarin: almost 60 years old and still causing problems". British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology, 62(5) (November 2006): 509–511. "Warfarin is now the most widely used anticoagulant in the world."
  12. ^ Thomson, James (November 6, 1998). "Embryonic Stem Cell Lines Derived from Human Blastocysts". Science. 282 (5391): 1145–1147. Bibcode:1998Sci...282.1145T. doi:10.1126/science.282.5391.1145. PMID 9804556.
  13. ^ "Tech's 8 Most Fearsome 'Patent Trolls'". Business Insider. 2012-11-25. Retrieved 2013-12-20.
  14. ^ "Non-Practicing Entities in Cleantech". 2012-10-16. Retrieved 2013-12-20.
  15. ^ "Are Universities Patent Trolls?". Fordham Intellectual Property, Media and Entertainment Law Journal. 611. Spring 2008.
  16. ^ Nocera, Joe (2015-10-24). "Opinion | The Patent Troll Smokescreen". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2023-06-15.
  17. ^ "Wisconsin-Madison sues Intel for patent infringement". CNET. Retrieved 2023-06-15.
  18. ^ Joe Mullin (October 14, 2015). "Apple faces $862M patent damage claim from University of Wisconsin". Ars Technica. Retrieved October 14, 2015.
  19. ^ Wolfe, Jan (July 25, 2017). "Apple ordered to pay $506 million to university in patent dispute". Reuters. Retrieved July 26, 2017.

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