Even among avid football fans, the 1976 Sun Bowl was a distant memory in 2004. And for three University of Florida civil engineers, the last Gator-Aggie match-up was never even on their radar screen. Even so, they found themselves in Texas A&M territory as they were developing a unique lifesaving device.
With Florida ranking fourth in the number of U.S. roadway construction fatalities, the associate professors came up with a concept for a roadside barrier that would protect both road construction workers and motorists. Their Portable Temporary Low-Profile Barrier was designed to be used on secondary, low-speed roadways. If they were successful in its development, the 18-inch tall concrete barrier would come in 12-foot, light-weight sections, making it easy to put in place. And with its unique connection system, the barrier sections could be connected together while also conforming to the contour of both straight and curved roadways.
But the researchers ran into a road block. As it turns out, the Texas A&M Transportation Institute (TTI) had two U.S. patents granted for a 20 inch-tall concrete barrier system in 1992 and 1994 (US 5,156,485 and 5,295,757). Over the years, TTI licensed rights to their patented barrier technology to eleven highway construction contractors, nine of which were in Texas.
“The TTI barrier had some features that we wanted to incorporate into our design,” Dr. Gary Consolazio, an associate professor of civil and coastal engineering at U of F, recalls. “However, we needed a system that was capable of being laid out on horizontal and vertical curves, and it needed to be more manageable in its placement and installation.”
The Florida barrier design had plenty of differences, but it was similar enough to TTI’s that the University of Florida professors needed permission from TTI in order to proceed.
“As with most all matters related to patents, plenty of discussions, document exchanges, and negotiations took place. In 2004, The A&M System granted a non-exclusive license to the University of Florida in order to incorporate aspects of TTI’s barrier into Florida’s design to facilitate Florida’s commercial licensing of the combined barrier,” says TTI’s Technology Licensing Manager Darrell Kuhn.
Aside from the negotiations between technology licensing officials from both schools, the inventors of both schools’ barriers never spoke. Even so, The University of Florida successfully developed its roadside safety product and received U.S. Patent 6,967,158 B1 on July 27, 2004.
“Our Portable Temporary Low-Profile Barrier is being used in construction zones all across Florida now,” Dr. Consolazio says. “And we feel confident that construction workers and drivers operating near these construction areas are safer.”