American inventor Jerome H. Lemelson has established the largest prize for innovation and invention in the United States at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Mass. The $500,000 Lemelson-MIT Prize is part of a multimillion-dollar program designed to foster innovation that will be administered by internationally known MIT economist Lester C. Thurow.

The MIT gift is one element in a national program Mr. Lemelson has established to spur innovation and invention in the US in cooperation with institutions of higher learning. Late last year, he began a $3.2-million series of initiatives at Hampshire College, Amherst, Mass., a liberal arts school.

In all, Lemelson has committed $10 million through the Lemelson National Program in Invention, Innovation, and Creativity.

``America's greatest natural resource remains American ingenuity,'' says Lemelson, who holds more than 500 patents for such things as industrial robots, bar-code scanning systems, cordless telephones, fax machines, VCRs, and the magnetic-tape drive used in Sony's ``Walkmans.''

The prize is open to US citizens and will be conferred for the first time in early 1995. It is part of a $6.5-million initiative that also includes the Jerome and Dorothy Lemelson professorship valued at $2 million; 10 research fellowships at $30,000 each, linked to the chair, to support graduate students studying ways to increase innovation, and eight awards for undergraduate MIT students who have demonstrated achievement in inventiveness and innovation in any field. Dr. Thurow has been named the first Jerome and Dorothy Lemelson professor at MIT.

``This prize and the program are significant to MIT,'' says Charles M. Vest, president of MIT, ``because the university was founded 133 years ago on the idea that it's important to develop new ideas and solutions to real-world problems.''

At Hampshire College, the Lemelson program is funding the Lemelson Fellowships. These fellowships support student-staffed ``E-Teams'' - entrepreneurial teams that will examine a real-world problem and attempt to invent and develop new approaches and technologies that not only solve the problem, but also hold promise for creating successful businesses.

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