New members inducted into Stanford Inventor Hall of Fame

Management Science and Engineering professors Walter Murray, at podium, and Michael Saunders, far right, were inducted into the Hall of Fame for a suite of optimization packages, including MINOS and SNOPT. OTL Director Katharine Ku, left, looks on.

What do nucleotide sequence amplification, engineering optimization software and Google’s PageRank algorithm have in common? They’re all quite lucrative. They and four other inventions have earned their creators coveted seats in the “Stanford Inventor Hall of Fame.” The inductees have each come up with devices or processes that have brought the university $5 million or more in royalties. There are not, as it turns out, very many members of this elite club.

“There have only been 17 in our 42 years of operation,” said KATHARINE KU, the director of the Stanford Office of Technology Licensing (OTL). “It’s hard to bring in that amount of money.”

The inventions are all the result of research conducted at Stanford, by Stanford professors, graduate students and postdoctoral fellows. The inductees were honored last week during a reception at OTL.

The new inductees are:

Oncology Professor RON LEVY and former postdoctoral fellow LOIS LAMPSON, for a set of antibody-producing cell lines used for research and diagnosis.

Management science and engineering Professors MICHAEL SAUNDERS and WALTER MURRAY, Stanford Systems Optimization Laboratory member PHILIP GILL, BRUCE MURTAGH (former professor at Macquarie University, Australia) and former graduate student MARGARET WRIGHT, for a suite of optimization packages, including MINOS and SNOPT. The software has been used to design everything from an America’s Cup yacht to power grids.

Former anesthesia Assistant Professor  MARK YELDERMAN, for a flow measurement technique that has proved invaluable for monitoring blood flow through the heart in emergency rooms.

Microbiology and immunology Professor JOHN BOOTHROYD, and former postdoctoral fellows JAMES LAWRENCE BURG and PHILIPPE POULETTY, for a method of amplifying nucleotide sequences that is now used in a number of diagnostic tests.

Biochemistry Professor PATRICK BROWN and former graduate student DARI SHALON, for the basis of DNA microarrays, which have become an essential tool for genotyping and measuring gene expression levels.

Professor of pediatrics and of microbiology and immunology CHRISTOPHER CONTAG, former postdoctoral fellow PAMELA CONTAG and consulting professor of pediatrics DAVID BENARON, for “glowing mice” – a technique that uses bioluminescent bacteria for real-time pathogen imaging.

LARRY PAGE and SERGEY BRIN, for the hypertext searching algorithm that would later form the basis of Google, which they developed as graduate students at Stanford.

Licensing from Google’s algorithm alone has brought in around $337 million.

The eclecticism of the inventions drives home how difficult it is to reach the $5 million mark. “There really is no pattern to who gets in,” said Ku. “It seems random – which is why it’s interesting.”

— MAX MCCLURE