Albuquerque Business First magazine names some of the most powerful and innovative women in the state each year as “Women of Influence.” Among the 30 honorees for the 10th annual award is the University of New Mexico’s Michèle Huff. From a record 450 applicants, judges selected 30 women considered to be mentors, innovators, leaders and role models in six diverse fields. Huff was cited for her work in education.
"I am honored to have been chosen as a woman of influence by my peers. In 1940, Eleanor Roosevelt wrote that she hoped there would come a time when in business, government, and the professions, women would be looked upon as persons,” Huff said. “I have that same hope seventy-four years later-- that one day, in the very near future, we won't need to separately honor women in this category; we will all be judged as leaders, researchers, rainmakers, and persons of influence."
Huff has two of the most complex jobs at UNM. She is a senior associate university counsel in the Office of University Counsel, and she is managing the sponsored projects research office for the Vice President of Research. It is her expertise that allows the wheels of entrepreneurship at the university to turn, according to Vice President for Research Michael Dougher. For Huff, it is a balancing act to keep the interests of the university and the needs of the faculty in sync. Huff’s work at UNM is really visible only to the groups she works with directly. “Her value to the institution is part of the foundation that makes a great research university possible,” Dougher said.
Huff spends a substantial amount of her day helping faculty and students understand how intellectual property rights work at UNM. It is case in which the details make the difference. For example, a faculty member might develop a software program that’s not related to the work or teaching they do, but used university computers and resources to develop it. The question becomes who owns that intellectual property?
As Huff works with the faculty member to sort it out, she begins by asking questions: How was the intellectual property developed? Was most of the work done in a garage at home, and then the faculty member used university resources to print a paper or do a final check on something? “That’s not substantial use,” Huff said. Or was the faculty member working almost daily on the project with UNM funding? Other considerations: Was the work done using UNM facilities, office space and/or computers? “Well, that sounds like substantial use,” Huff said. To help faculty understand intellectual property, she gives talks to groups around campus, and to graduate and undergraduate classes.
Huff also works with companies that hire UNM professors to complete a specific task. Industry research is increasingly important to the university as federal research funds falter under congressional budget trimming. Huff helps faculty members and industry set up the ground rules for ownership and commercialization of intellectual property that comes from the sponsored work product.
For the last few months, she has also directed the sponsored projects office for the Vice President for Research. In that capacity she manages a staff handling grant and contract proposals and awards from government agencies. At UNM, this office deals with the complex reporting and compliance requirements that go along with federally funded research.
Dr. Julia Fulghum, professor, Chemistry and Chemical Biology, nominated Huff for the Women of Influence honor. "UNM is fortunate to have Michele actively engaged in a range of activities that enhance our research programs and progress,”Fulghum said. “Her deep knowledge of technology development and intellectual property combined with her ability to rapidly and effectively solve problems are critical to the continuing advancement of research at UNM.”
Huff spent most of her professional life in Silicon Valley as an attorney with Sun Microsystems. That background gave her a good understanding of how the tech transfer part of research works in a business environment. She came to UNM in 2008 and now uses her business skills to help the university understand how to collaborate with industry so everyone’s interest is protected. Her ability to walk between two worlds helped make her a good choice for the Women of Influence awards.
Huff doesn’t have much free time, but she spends some of it mentoring under a New Mexico State Bar “Bridge the Gap” program that pairs new lawyers with an experienced mentor as they learn how to set up a practice and begin building a client base. She’s also completed a book called the Transformative Negotiator and will be guiding a session on negotiation at the upcoming NBIA 28th International Conference on Business Incubation in New Orleans this May.
She and her partner also travel as much as possible and are planning a trip to New Zealand. Her other love is the outdoors where she hikes and bikes in the Albuquerque Bosque. She says the outdoor activity is a great break from working in an office all day.