Petri dish in a lab

Innovation in Bloomington

April 2015

Y. Y. Ahn

Y. Y. Ahn

Assistant Professor, Center for Complex Networks and Systems Research, School of Informatics and Computing, Indiana University Bloomington and co-founder, Janys Analytics.

Yong-Yeol (Y.Y.) Ahn develops and leverages mathematical and computational methods to study complex systems such as cells, the brain, society, and culture. His recent contribution includes a new framework to identify pervasively overlapping modules in networks, network-based algorithms to predict viral memes, and a new computational approach to study food culture. He is a recipient of several awards including Microsoft Research Faculty Fellowship. He worked as a postdoctoral research associate at the Center for Complex Network Research at Northeastern University and as a visiting researcher at the Center for Cancer Systems Biology at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute for three years after earning his Ph.D in Statistical Physics from KAIST in 2008.

When Ahn arrived at IU in 2011, the South Korea native already had co-founded Janys Analytics while working as a post-doctoral researcher at Northeastern University. The company's co-founders received national media attention for their visualization titled "Pulse of the Nation," in which Ahn and his colleagues demonstrated the ebb and flow of "happiness" throughout the United States - as represented by content in Twitter posts - throughout a 24-hour cycle. Through such expertise, Janys provides analytics services for companies in the energy, entertainment, financial and other industries.

During Ahn's time in Bloomington, he and his colleagues have produced a method to predict viral content on social media, which can be beneficial to media companies or any enterprise where public relations directly impacts business.

It was at that point where Ahn reached a crossroads in the project - and reached out to the Indiana University Research and Technology Corporation.

"I was unsure about conflicts of interest and translating academic ideas into the practice. So I met with Bill Brizzard and - along with some input from IU's Office of Research Compliance - we decided it was in the best interest of everyone involved in the research to patent it," Ahn said. "So Bill helped a lot in navigating the complex issues regarding patents and licensing so we could successfully file the patent and start a discussion of licensing between Janys and IU."

Like many researchers, Ahn readily admits his understanding of the patenting process is somewhat less than adequate. When he first approached IURTC, he learned about issues involved with early disclosure - and was fortunate to seek a patent early enough in the process.

Under current U.S. patent laws, researchers can lose the right to protect their intellectual property if they present a patentable idea in a conference presentation or submit an article for journal publication.

"Most of us (researchers) are not aware about patent issues. I had given 'rough overview' talks about the research and that was one of the major concerns during the patent process. The concern was whether someone in the audience - based on the information that I had given - could go out and replicate the idea," Ahn said. "IURTC advised that I had not disclosed enough information for that to occur. But the advice I would give to anyone who thinks they may have a patentable idea is to be careful. If you disclose too much information before you seek to patent your idea, you won't be able to file a patent."

Ahn said he was pleasantly surprised to learn how easy it is to work with IURTC and its staff. Rather than be intimidated by technical jargon and bureaucratic duties that ate into his scholarly pursuits, working with Brizzard and his staff helped ease his concerns.

"Bill is real easy to talk to. He has a way of making everything become very clear and quickly identifying what the issues are," Ahn said. "The people at IURTC are top notch. They have real expertise in their field - most have Ph.Ds just as the researchers do. It was much easier to work with them than some of the law firms we (at Janys) worked with in the past - and it took much less time to have a patent application drafted and ready to finalize."