Arizonans will cast votes in November 2004 on a constitutional amendment that some say will lay the groundwork for a major new business sector in the state.
Gov. Janet Napolitano held a ceremonial signing on Thursday of HB2403, a bill that will allow voters to amend the state constitution so it is easier for entrepreneurs to capitalize on discoveries made at the state's three universities.
"We are in the process of building a 21st-century economy in Arizona," she said.
Right now, the state constitution requires companies to pay royalties on research discovered on university campuses.
That's fine when larger companies want to utilize research — they can afford to fork over the cash immediately. But smaller start-up companies don't have that kind of money in their early years, said Vance Nau, president and CEO of Molecular Imaging, a company in Tempe started by two Arizona State University professors.
The amendment would allow companies to give universities equity, delaying the payment for the patents and giving the companies extra cash flow.
"Early on in a company's life, cash is king," Nau said.
Like most start-up companies, Molecular Imaging started on a shoe-string budget, said one of its founders, Stuart Lindsay. "The company was essentially a Visa card operation in the back room," he said.
In its 10 years, the company has grown to become the world's largest manufacturer of scanning probe microscopy instruments, which give a view of cells that will help advance research into new drugs, plastics and even electronics, Nau said.
There are about 100,000 small companies such as Molecular Imaging around the country, said ASU President Michael Crow. Earlier this year, ASU established Arizona Technologies Enterprises, an arm of the university that will market research, patents and licenses to the private sector.