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The Lemelson Foundation

The NCIIA is supported primarily by funding from The Lemelson Foundation. The Lemelson Foundation is a private philanthropy established by one of the most prolific U.S. inventors, Jerome Lemelson, and his family. Invention and innovation play a vital role in economic development and improving people’s lives. The Lemelson Foundation uses its resources to inspire, encourage and recognize inventors, innovators and entrepreneurs, with a growing emphasis on those who harness invention for sustainable development where the needs are greatest. To date, The Foundation has given or committed more than $87 million in support of its mission.

U.S. Program
The Foundation supports several grantees whose programs celebrate extraordinary inventors as role models, illustrate the driving force of invention and innovation in the evolution of a great society, and nurture young adults to solve pressing social problems by pursuing careers in invention.

International Program
The Foundation is exploring avenues for fostering and unleashing human creativity and invention to meet basic human needs and build sustainable livelihoods for the world’s poor people.  Drawing on a decade of experience supporting invention and innovation in the United States, the Foundation’s Invention for Sustainable Development Program recognizes inventors and innovators in developing countries, fosters the institutions that support them, and applies their inventions to advance sustainable development.

Other programs supported by The Lemelson Foundation include:

Jerome Lemelson

Jerome H. Lemelson was one of America's most prolific inventors. One of his great dreams–to spark creativity and entrepreneurship in students around the country –lives on in the National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance.

A master inventor, Lemelson averaged one patent a month for more than 40 years, all of which he accomplished independently, without support from established research institutions or corporate research and development departments. Lemelson's more than 500 patents, which represent the fourth largest portfolio in American history, impact nearly every aspect of modern life. Lemelson's deeply held passion for encouraging creativity and inventiveness in youth–fueled by his belief that the key to America's future prosperity is its innovative edge–led to the founding of Hampshire College's Lemelson National Program in Invention, Innovation, and Creativity, and the National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance. In addition, Lemelson established MIT's Lemelson Prize to raise the visibility of inventors and entrepreneurs as public role models; The Center for Innovation at the Smithsonian Institution to document the history of invention; and The Lemelson Center for Entrepreneurship at the University of Nevada, Reno, to fund a course in electrical engineering. Each of these programs was designed to support innovation and inventiveness in a new generation of Americans.

"I am always looking for problems to solve," Lemelson said in a 1994 interview. "I cannot look at a new technology without asking: How can it be improved?"

Lemelson was an optimistic and vibrant man, and his energy for ideas and discoveries continued until the last years of his life. Developing new concepts and promoting invention well into his 70s, Lemelson filed scores of patents in the fields of medical instrumentation, cancer detection and treatment, diamond coating technologies, and consumer electronics and television.

Lemelson's most notable inventions are the drive mechanism of the audio cassette player, and key components of the VCR and LASER-guided industrial robots used in modern manufacturing (not to mention many popular toys, including the flexible car track popularly known as "Hot Wheels"). Yet his most lasting accomplishment may be his tireless crusade to spark creativity and invention among America's youth.

Through his generous philanthropy Lemelson sought to restore inventing to the stature of earlier eras, when men and women like Thomas Edison, Wilbur and Orville Wright, and Marie Curie were revered for ideas and inventions that greatly benefited society. "It's very disturbing to me to learn that American students today think the path to a lucrative future is through entertainment or sports - especially when 70 percent of high school students feel that America is losing its competitive edge in invention and innovation," Lemelson said in a 1994 interview with the Wall Street Journal, on the eve of the awarding of the first $500,000 Lemelson Prize.

Like thousands of other boys born in the early 1920s, Lemelson's passion was airplanes. He fed his fascination on hobby planes and spent hours tinkering with them as a child and flying his hand-built, gasoline-powered craft in the open fields of Staten Island, where he grew up. During World War II, Lemelson was assigned to the engineering department of the Army Air Corps. After the war he earned a bachelor's degree in Aeronautical Engineering at New York University and ended up working for the University's Office of Naval Research on a project to develop rocket engines. One day in 1951 the 28 year old Lemelson went to see a demonstration of an automatic metal lathe at an airplane control mechanism shop. Lemelson left the Alma Factory in Brooklyn wondering how far one could push the idea of a programmed factory machine.

From 1951 to 1954, Lemelson developed the designs for his first invention, a "universal robot" whose mechanical arms could rivet, weld, measure, drill, pick up objects and reposition them. Unbeknownst to him, a patent application for essentially the same technology had been filed two weeks earlier than Lemelson's 150-page application. Immediately he set to work on a second application of the universal robot, a "flexible manufacturing system," which would become the automated machine shop, one of his most far-reaching inventions. That same year he married Dorothy (Dolly) Ginsberg, an interior decorator. During their honeymoon the couple stopped at the Search Room of the U.S. Patent Office in Washington, D.C., and within minutes Lemelson was off on another track. This time the flash of creativity led to an invention that eventually became the core of the audio cassette player.

Lemelson was a tireless supporter of the independent inventor and worked diligently throughout his life to educate elected leaders and the public about corporate and political practices that undermine independent inventors. Appointed to the Patent and Trademark Office Advisory Committee in 1975, Lemelson spoke out in Senate Hearings four years later about "the innovation crisis." It was one of his first public statements against legal and corporate barriers to independent invention and the beginning of Lemelson's lifelong campaign to persuade public officials to uphold the rights of independent inventors through the patent process.

Lemelson once said that having the opportunity to live a life of ideas, to be an inventor, was his dream come true. His passionate, lifelong pursuit of that dream made the world a richer place.




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