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Inventor Donates $6.5M to Institute

By Daniel C. Stevenson
Associate Night Editor

On Monday, inventor Jerome H. Lemelson established the $500,000 Lemelson-MIT Prize as part of a $6.5 million innovation and invention program he is funding at the Institute. Lemelson and his wife also endowed a professorship, 10 graduate research fellowships, and eight undergraduate awards.

"We've established the Lemelson-MIT prize to encourage young people in this country to seek careers in invention and innovation -- to inspire their ingenuity," said Lemelson, who holds over 500 patents and is America's most prolific, living inventor.

The annual contest, which is open to American citizens, is the country's largest prize for invention and innovation and will first be given in early 1995.

The $30,000-undergraduate awards will be given to 10 students each year. The undergraduate awards are for "undergraduates at MIT who have exemplified innovation or invention in some way," according to Annemarie Amparo, who will be the program director of the Lemelson-MIT Prize.

The research fellowships will be given to 10 graduate students on a staggered basis -- $30,000 a year for two years. This is still not completely definite, Amparo said.

Former Dean of the Sloan School of Management Lester C. Thurow was named the first holder of the $2 million Jerome and Dorothy Lemelson Professorship on Monday. "This chair will give MIT the opportunity to spearhead initiatives that will help to foster inventions and innovations that clearly provide real-world benefits," President Charles M. Vest said. "Thurow can provide extraordinary leadership in this regard."

MIT and Lemelson were "a perfect match" because of the Institute's tradition of innovation, Amparo said.

"MIT is an ideal partner because of its longstanding commitment to fostering the spirit of invention and the development of technological innovation and the international respect it commands." Lemelson said.

Lemelson holds the fourth highest number of patents in American history. Elihu Thomson, a former electrical engineering professor at MIT and acting president from 1920 to 1922, holds the second highest, behind Thomas A. Edison.

Lemelson's holds patents for the camcorder, the compact disk, the magnetic tape drive mechanisms used in walkmans, VCRs, cordless telephones, and fax machines.

`Innovation crisis'

America is facing an innovation crisis, said Lemelson, referring to a recent survey that found almost 75 percent of high school students would rather be in show business than be an inventor.

"We must convince our nation's young people that the field of invention can be far more rewarding -- financially and in other respects -- than most of our young people think," Lemelson said.

Lemelson "has a grand vision here of trying to make invention as salient as being an athletic hero to young people," said Glen L. Urban, dean of the Sloan School of Management. Lemelson's initiative is "very good for Sloan," Urban said. "It is consistent with our strategy to support innovation in organizations."

In the future, organizations are going to have to be inventive to compete, according to Urban. "The critical success factor will be innovation," he said.

Success in invention and innovation is linked to economic success, Lemelson said. "By growing our own technology and rewarding American inventors with protectable patents, we create jobs at home and capture revenue streams throughout the globe."

The program at MIT is an integral part of Lemelson's plan. "The prize program and MIT's other commitments to stimulating invention can set a precedent that other influential American institutions can follow to ensure America's future economic success," Lemelson said.

Lemelson's MIT venture is part of a $10 million initiative that includes a series of projects at Hampshire College in Amherst, Mass. Projects include the National Collegiate Inventors Alliance, a National Inventors Symposium, and the Lemelson Fellowships. The fellowships support student entrepreneurial teams that examine real-world problems and develop new approaches to solving the problems.