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Mouse inventor wins $500K Lemelson prize

Douglas C. Engelbart of the Bootstrap Institute, a high-tech pioneer who invented the computer mouse, hypertext and groupware, has been named the winner of the $500,000 Lemelson-MIT Prize for 1997, the world's single largest cash prize for American invention and innovation.

Dr. Engelbart, whose 20 patents are generally credited with launching the entire high-technology industry, received the award from the Lemelson-MIT Prize Program on the recommendation of three review panels of leading experts representing scientific, engineering and medical disciplines in academia and industry.

The Lemelson-MIT Lifetime Achievement Award was given to Gertrude B. Elion of Chapel Hill, NC, who shared the 1988 Nobel Prize in medicine or physiology with two other researchers. She holds 45 patents, two of which are for drugs that combat acute leukemia.

"These winners represent American ingenuity at its best," said Lester C. Thurow, the Jerome and Dorothy Lemelson Professor of Management and Economics at the Sloan School and chairman of the Lemelson-MIT Prize Board. "Their commitment to their beliefs and ideas has dramatically altered and improved lives while advancing industry."

"Drs. Engelbart and Elion's achievements have transformed and enriched our daily lives," said President Charles M. Vest.

"Their contributions to our national productivity and well-being should hold a prominent place in the public mind. Through the Lemelson-MIT Awards, we can bestow a measure of that well-earned recognition."

Drs. Engelbart and Elion will receive holograms designed for the Lemelson-MIT Program by the Media Laboratory. Both will be honored tomorrow evening (April 10) at a special ceremony at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History in Washington, DC.

Dr. Engelbart, 72, who has degrees from Oregon State and the University of California at Berkeley, did much of his breakthrough research while at the Stanford Research Institute in the 1950s and '60s. He founded the Bootstrap Institute in Fremont, CA, in 1989.

His invention of the first fully integrated, two-way computer/video teleconference led to the development of elaborate communication systems, including NLS oNLine and ARPAnet, the precursor to the Internet. His technological firsts include creation of the computer mouse, hypermedia, multiple-window screens, groupware, online publishing and electronic mail systems.

Since its patent in 1970 (it was created a decade earlier), more than 100 million mice have been sold by Logitech Inc., the world leader in computer mouse manufacturing.

Dr. Elion, 79, who holds degrees from Hunter College and New York University, devoted her 40-year career to the search for innovative drugs to alleviate illness. In addition to the leukemia drugs Purinethol and Thioguanine, she played a major role in developing allupurinol (Zyloric or Zyloprim), an effective treatment for gout and some of the side effects of chemotherapy; azathioprine (Imuran), which blocks the body's rejection of foreign tissue; and acyclovir (Zovirax), the first significant medication to safely block a virus.

More than a half a million transplant recipients in the last 34 years have benefited from her discovery of azathio-prine. She has continued to encourage young inventors by mentoring medical students, giving lectures, sponsoring scholarships for chemists and being involved in national and international committees, including the World Health Organization.

"Inventors are an often unrecognized part of the fabric of American life," said Dr. Jerome H. Lemelson, the nation's most prolific inventor with more than 500 patents. The Lemelson-MIT Prize annually honors Americans who demonstrate leadership and excellence in creativity, invention and/or innovation in medicine and health care, energy and environment, telecommunications or computing, consumer products, durable goods and industrial products.

Dr. Lemelson and his wife, Dorothy, established the program in 1994 to inspire a new generation of American scientists, engineers and entrepreneurs. The program is administered by MIT.

The first Lemelson-MIT winner was automotive engineer William J. Bolander, whose 10 patents cover key innovations used by Saturn and General Motors. Last year, Drs. Herbert Boyer and Stanley Cohen shared the prize for inventing a method of cloning genetically engineered molecules in foreign cells. The first lifetime award winners were Drs. David Packard and William Hewlett, founders of the Hewlett-Packard Co. Last year's lifetime achievement winner was Dr. Wilson Greatbatch, inventor of the cardiac pacemaker.

The program also awards an annual $30,000 Lemelson-MIT Student Prize. The winners have been graduate students Thomas Massie, David Levy and Nathan Kane.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on April 9, 1997.

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