Xeroxing Patents

Thomas Edison said the value of an idea lies in the use of it. As principal scientist at Xerox Research Center in Webster, N.Y., electrical engineering alumnus Zhigang “Zeke” Fan, M.S. ’86, Ph.D ’88, follows Edison’s practical philosophy. Fan has converted many of his innovative ideas into patents. In fact, he earned his 100th patent last fall. Before 2010 ended, that number had already climbed to 106.

Not one to rest upon his past inventions, Fan has another 70 patents pending. And his problem solving ability and scientific curiosity apparently never rests. On average, Fan has been submitting 10 to 15 applications annually in recent years. Patent approval generally takes 3 to 4 years.

Fan is a terrific collaborator—he shares about 70 percent of the patents with his co-inventing colleagues and solos on the remaining 30 percent.

While he doesn’t earn royalties from the patents, Fan says that Xerox fosters innovation by rewarding employees with patentable ideas.

Born in Shanghai, China, Fan was encouraged to come to URI with his wife, Yijuan Shen ’88, by a friend studying physics here. The friend also encouraged the Department of Electrical Engineering to accept Fan as a student: “He’s quite bright,” the friend remarked.