CORVALLIS - Douglas Engelbart, who has been described as a giant of the modern computing industry and pioneer of the Information Age, today received the world's largest cash prize for American inventors. He is a 1948 graduate of Oregon State University.

Engelbart was named the winner of the $500,000 Lemelson-MIT Prize for 1997. The prestigious award is administered by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and was made following a year-long review by three expert panels from a range of disciplines in science, medicine and engineering.

It will be the focus of a ceremony on April 10 at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.

"The university is proud that one of our graduates has received the world's most prestigious award for inventors," said OSU President Paul Risser. "The award, and Doug Engelbart, represent the high quality of students at Oregon State University and attest to the active and inquisitive education provided here.

"The enormous contributions his inventions have made affect how each of us live today," Risser added.

Engelbart is perhaps best known as father of the computer "mouse," but his inventive genius and 20 lifetime patents also paved the way for electronic mail, computer "windows," computer networking and the Internet.

He received a degree in electrical engineering from OSU almost five decades ago and was awarded an honorary doctorate from the university in 1994.

Leaders of the American computing and high technology industries say such recognition for Engelbart is overdue.

"Doug pioneered network computing technologies when it was not popular to do so in the '60s and '70s," said Scott McNealy, the president and chairman of the board of Sun Microsystems.

"His vision, courage and tenacity to open, non-proprietary interfaces continues to contribute to every man, woman and child having access to the collective wisdom of the planet that resides on the network," McNealy said.

Martin Haeberli, director of technology for Netscape Communications, acknowledged Engelbart's "deep thinking, foresight, passion and persistence."

"Doug remains at once incredibly low-key, modest, and unassuming in his continued pursuit of his goals - to make it possible for people and teams, small as well as global, to dramatically improve their effectiveness and results," Haeberli said.

Engelbart's patents are generally credited with the creation of collaborative hypertext and community networking systems, and have launched an entire technology industry, officials say.

His groundbreaking research in 1968 produced the first fully-integrated two-way computer and video teleconference, and led to elaborate communication systems that were the precursor to the modern Internet.

Other technological firsts included creation of the computer "mouse," hypermedia, multiple-window screens, groupware, online publishing and electronic mail systems. Since being patented, over 100 million "mice" have been sold by one leading manufacturer.

This award is named after Jerome H. Lemelson, a modern-day Thomas Edison with more than 500 U.S. patents to his credit and the nation's most prolific living inventor. It was established in 1994 to promote positive role models for young people and for all aspiring inventors.

Also honored along with Engelbart was Gertrude Elion of Chapel Hill, N.C., who received the group's Lifetime Achievement Award for numerous pharmaceutical advancements.

"Inventors are an often unrecognized part of the fabric of American life," Lemelson said. "Engelbart's and Elion's achievements have transformed and enriched our daily lives. Their contributions to our national productivity and well-being should hold a prominent place in the public mind."


Laura Melamed, 212-546-1201

Click photos to see a full-size version. Right click and save image to download.