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An overview of a large group of smiling U inventors in the atrium of the McNamara Center September 20.

More than 75 honorees attended the inaugural inventor recognition ceremony September 20.

Inventing the future

The U throws a party for its latest crop of inventors

By Deane Morrison

Published on September 23, 2005

If you've ever thrown out a chunk of expensive aged cheddar cheese because it had white spots on it, fear not. Lloyd Metzger has come up with an ingredient to keep the spots from forming. The process is being tested, but you'll have to be patient--it takes a while to age the cheese and see the results. An assistant professor of food science and nutrition, Metzger was one of approximately 104 University inventors honored Tuesday during the inaugural Inventor Recognition Ceremony at McNamara Alumni Center. The event recognized every University person who had had a patent issued and/or a commercial license signed on intellectual property during fiscal year 2005. In his remarks, President Robert Bruininks praised the honorees' work and stressed the University's commitment to seek out, nurture, and launch new intellectual property. The work is paying dividends; Vice President for Research R. Timothy Mulcahy announced that the University had received nearly $48 million in royalties on licensed technologies during the past fiscal year. Mulcahy, who handed out awards to inventors with both a patent and a license in 2005, also showed off his preparation for the event when he rattled off Nikos Papanikolopoulos's name flawlessly. Papanikolopoulos, inventor of the self-propelled, soda can-sized Scout robots, "reinvented the wheels" of the reconnaissance robots to improve their ability to navigate challenging terrain. Overall, the inventions ran the gamut of ingenuity:

An article from the June 20 issue of The Scientist ranked the University's "intellectual pipeline" fourth, based on a variety of criteria. And, while year-to-year numbers show lots of ups and downs, patents for University-developed intellectual property rose from 25 in FY 1996 to 49 in FY 2005, while the number of licenses rose from 47 to 79. Much of the University's income comes from one "home-run" invention: the anti-HIV drug Ziagen, developed by medicinal chemistry professor Robert Vince. As more inventors disclose their technologies, the University may be able to not only increase its income, but to even it out by hitting more "doubles" that allow it to reduce its dependence on the occasional Babe Ruth. And many of these inventions may spawn their own companies. A recent Institute of Technology (IT) survey found its graduates have created 2,600 active companies in Minnesota with annual revenue of $46 billion that employ about 175,000 people.

The Sept. 20 event follows an earlier celebration this month, The Minnesota Cup, that highlights other breakthrough innovations and underscores the University's role as an engine for economic growth. Oh, and about those spots on cheese: They're not mold, just harmless crystals of calcium and lactic acid, normal components of milk. So eat up, and raise a glass to the creative among us.

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