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Utah: a seedbed for inventors; International Inventors Conference comes to Logan.

Utah: A Seedbed for Inventors

To the uninitiated, inventors are visionaries who grab hold of their dreams and, like modern-day alchemists, somehow transform them into income-producing commodities complete with patents. If only it were that easy.

A Good Idea Is Just the Start

For today's inventor a good idea is just the start. A carefully wrought business plan, wellhoned marketing skills, a lawyer's grasp of patent laws, capital and a supportive environment are a few of the basics an inventor needs to successfully take a good idea from seed (the lab or garage) to the marketplace. The critical path from concept to commercialization was the theme of a recent conference that drew inventors from around the world to Sherwood Hills Resort, located in northern Utah's magnificent Wellsville Canyon.

A joint conference for members of the International Federation of Inventors Associations (IFIA) and the National Congress of Inventors Organizations (NCIO) sparked lively information exchanges on many issues including the harmonization of international patent laws, the role of women inventors, and the first-to-file verses first-to-invent systems of patent property rights. The conference was hosted by NCIO.

A "Seedbed" for Inventors

E. Cordell Lundahl, NCIO vice president and president of Ezra C. Lundahl, Inc. in Logan, was instrumental in bringing this international community of inventors to Utah. Lundahl, the U.S. representative to IFIA and an inventor in his own right, knows better than most the difficulties of developing, manufacturing and marketing an intellectual property or invention. He holds nearly 150 patents, many of them for high-tech farm machinery.

Lundahl, who served as moderator for the conference, introduced the keynote speaker, Utah Governor Norman Bangerter, by calling him a strong supporter of new technology development. The governor noted the appropriateness of inventors convening in Utah given the state's rich entrepreneurial heritage. That tradition continues to make Utah a veritable "seedbed" for inventors and new technology. The state has remained among the top 10 in the nation for the number of patents awarded during the past 20 years. Also, Utah ranks third in the U.S. for the amount of university research dollars (per capita) that come into the state annually.

"Every state has people whose accomplishments serve to inspire those who follow," Bangerter told the conferees. "Out of respect for these people and their ideals, we must continue the momentum they started. Inventors, such as Philo Farnsworth, who invented the television; David Evans, who pioneered the computer graphics and visualization industry; and Larry Hansen, inventor of the microwave oven, are typical of the enterpreneurial spirit found in this state. . . . Today the impact of Utah's inventors and university researchers is evident in fields such as robotics, artificial organs, controlled chemical delivery methods, video compression technology and solid waste recycling. We believe we have created a technology corridor in this state from Logan to Provo."

The Economics of Technology

Utah's entrepreneurial spirit and the strong infrastructure that nurtures it were recurrent themes. Dr. Lynn Blake, director of business development for the Department of Community and Economic Development, said that effective technology development is the key to the future of the state.

"We, in Utah, recognize that economic well-being is tied to technology development," Blake said. "We have targeted certain technologies in which we can compete. Effective technology development is a process. In addition to capital, it demands the right legislation, environmental structure and work force. Without that infrastructure, too many ideas sit in garages and too much technology sits in university laboratories."

Technology transfer is a high priority in Utah's plan for development. Bangerter highlighted a state initiative designed to encourage partnerships between federally-funded research laboratories and commercial producers. Through this six-year-old program, the state awards funding annually to companies that show potential for significant economic impacts on the state's bottom line. Utah's nationally-recognized Centers for Excellence Program awards grants to university researchers to assist late-developing technologies that are nearing commercialization. At last count, 40 new Utah companies have emerged to commercialize Center of Excellence research during the past six years.

From Concept to Commercialization

IFIA's commercialization mission dovetails with the state's technology transfer focus. Smoothing the critical path from concept to commercialization is the reason the program was created, said Cordell Lundahl who is responsible for its oversight. IFIA members from around the world are invited to submit their inventions for inclusion in a computerized invention catalog. Non-members can have inventions listed for a fee. The program offers inventors increased exposure to potential investors, Lundahl said. Additionally, its Utah location turns a spotlight on the state's technology development efforts.

"With (IFIA's) commercialization headquarters here in Utah, corporations and individuals from all over the world will be congregating in the state," Lundahl said. "It's really going to be an economic drawing card. We have had quite a bit of interest already. Right now we have 30 agreements or more with companies that have an interest in buying inventions included in the catalog. Inventors need this kind of help. They often make the mistake of thinking that the invention is 95 percent of the effort and marketing is just 5 percent. Actually, it's the other way around."

"We have the support here in Utah," Lundahl said. That's why we held our conference here. One of our goals is to encourage the development of programs, like the Centers of Excellence Program, that would help independent inventors. Our commercialization program has already grown faster than we anticipated. We have received more than 600 inventions and intellectual properties for cataloging in the past three months. This type of program is vital to inventors and will make an important economic contribution to our state."
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Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Walker, Elizabeth T.
Publication:Utah Business
Date:Nov 1, 1991
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