Incubator for ideas helps Soviet emigres EURUS offers advice to inventors

November 03, 1991|By David Conn

They're out there, the physicists, engineers and doctors. They're driving cabs, waiting on tables, delivering pizzas.

They've just arrived in Baltimore from the Soviet Union, many of them driven out by a rising tide of anti-Semitism. And though they hold postgraduate degrees and spent years at research and academic institutions in their native land, in the United States many have to take whatever work they can get.

And many potentially marketable ideas and technologies these highly skilled people brought with them are languishing for lack of business expertise and contacts.

That's where EURUS Inc. comes in. EURUS, named for the Greek god of the east wind, is a non-profit corporation the Abell Foundation set up this summer to seek out promising inventions from Soviet emigres in Baltimore and nationwide. The organization wants to transform ideas into products by helping emigres create companies, find financing and make licensing agreements.

"The first aim of this corporation is to improve the economy of Maryland," said EURUS Director Eva Burdman, who arrived in Baltimore in June and was hired by Abell soon after. Ms. Burdman, 37, was a patent researcher at the All-Union Center in Kishiva, the capital of the Moldavian Republic.

The second goal of EURUS, she said, is "to help people with ideas to realize the ideas."

In Moldova, Ms. Burdman held two degrees, in semiconductor microelectronics and patent law. Her job was to weed through the ideas scientists brought her, in fields as diverse as electronics, mechanical engineering, chemistry and medicine.

She and her family left the Soviet Union because of the anti-Jewish climate. Ms. Burdman said that though she liked her job and her country, she saw no future for her two children.

As director of EURUS, Ms. Burdman is doing much the same work as in her homeland, but the climate is different.

"There, when I worked on ideas with inventors to get them patents, it was a dead thing from the very beginning," she said, because patenting was much like publishing is for American academics -- a career necessity. "But here, it is very much alive, because here they are interested to realize their ideas, and they believe that they can do it here.

"It is above my dreams to work here," she said.

So far, out of the hundreds of calls EURUS has gotten in response to ads it ran in the national New Russian Word newspaper, almost 60 ideas have passed the initial "sounds reasonable" test. Ms. Burdman is ready to move forward on about seven of them. Most of the ideas have come from New York, which has the largest community of Soviet immigrants, but responses have come from as far as Boston, Miami, Minneapolis and San Francisco.

In Maryland, a Columbia inventor has a way to capture and recycle some of the toxic gases emitted during the dry-cleaning process, Ms. Burdman said.

Vladimir Klabakov, who came to the United States in June, received various international patents for his ideas, including one from the United States, when he worked at Moscow's Science Research Institute. But that was for early research. Now he needs a new patent for the machine that has resulted from his later research.

The device is a way to capture and recycle more effectively the gases from an expensive solvent used in the dry-cleaning process, Mr. Klabakov said. A Ph.D. in the Soviet Union, he is now working for a Washington law firm, doing research in the U.S. Patent Office.

Mr. Klabakov has been in touch with various companies but so far has found none that can manufacture his invention, which should cut down on the slight carcinogenic emissions from dry-cleaning. He said that he hopes EURUS will be able to connect him with the right partner, and he likes the reciprocal benefits of working with the organization.

L "They wanted to help me," he said, "and to help themselves."

If EURUS, working with the University of Maryland's Office of Technology Liaison, believes an invention has commercial value, EURUS will pay for any costs associated with evaluating, licensing and marketing the product. The non-profit corporation will try to find financing when appropriate and help inventors find companies to license their technology or even assist them in setting up their own companies.

The inventor must pay an application fee ranging from $10 to $100, depending on how long the person has been in this country. If the invention is sub-licensed to a third party, the inventor will receive 60 percent of the fees and royalties and EURUS will take 40 percent, after deducting expenses. If a new company is started, EURUS will take a like percentage of equity in it.

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