U.Va. Patent Foundation Announces 2007 Inventor of the Year

May 11, 2007 -- The University of Virginia Patent Foundation has selected Wladek Minor as the 2007 Edlich-Henderson Inventor of the Year. A professor of molecular physiology and biological physics in the University’s School of Medicine, Minor is a pioneering researcher and inventor in the field of protein crystallography.

“Minor’s research has led to the development of a number of software tools over the past decade that have proven their value both in academic and industrial settings,” said Chris Harris, senior licensing manager at the Patent Foundation who recommended Minor for the award.

XdisplayF, one of the software programs Minor and his colleagues have developed, is a visualization tool that allows crystallographers — scientists who study the structure and characteristics of crystals — to inspect and analyze their raw data. Along with other tools developed in Minor’s laboratory, XdisplayF is a component of the HKL and HKL-2000 software packages, which are used by scientists in more than 70 percent of the data deposits to the Protein Data Bank (a central repository of structural data of proteins and nucleic acids managed by an international scientific consortium  working to place the information in the public domain).

“This program is of particular interest to researchers in the pharmaceutical and drug discovery industries,” Harris said. “It enables them to correct experimental errors and visualize solutions that ordinarily are very difficult to recognize from the statistical data alone.”

Minor’s lab is part of the Midwest Center for Structural Genomics, a leading center of the National Institutes of Health’s Protein Structure Initiative, which elucidated the 3-D structures of more than 600 proteins during the past seven years. HKL-3000, the latest software package developed in Minor’s lab, was instrumental in that achievement. Minor’s research has been published in Nature, Structure, Biochemistry and other prestigious journals.  He may be best known for his 1997 article, co-written with Zbyszek Otwinowski of the Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, Texas, “Processing of X-ray Diffraction Data Collected in Oscillation Mode.” In 2006, their article was reported to be the second-most-cited scientific paper of the past decade.

In addition to his distinguished academic achievements, Minor also has been active in seeking a commercial outlet for his work. The HKL and HKL-2000 suites of programs have been commercialized and are distributed by HKL Research, Inc., a local start-up company founded by Minor and Otwinowski. The company has generated significant sales, and cumulative royalties paid to the U.Va. Patent Foundation are approaching $1 million.

Although an issued patent has been one of the requirements for the award in the past, the requirement was expanded this year to include granted copyrights, making Minor’s work in software eligible for the award. 

“The Patent Foundation’s Inventor of the Year Award recognizes a faculty inventor whose technology is of notable value to society,” said Robert MacWright, U.Va. Patent Foundation executive director and chief executive officer.  “The numerous citations Wladek Minor’s research has received illustrate its importance to the academic world, and society clearly has benefited from the availability of the commercial product.”

Minor will be honored May 14 at a banquet at the Boar’s Head Inn in Charlottesville. He will receive a plaque and a cash award of $10,000. This is the 15th year the Patent Foundation has bestowed the award.

The Edlich-Henderson Inventor of the Year Award

The U.Va. Patent Foundation’s annual award recognizes University of Virginia inventors who have developed technology of notable value to society. Financial success is a plus, but not a requirement. Award-winning inventions may treat disease; serve the disadvantaged, the disabled or the elderly; protect the environment; provide tools for research; enhance education; or aid in the development of a field of science or technology. A committee of U.Va. faculty selects the winner.

Award sponsor Christopher J. Henderson is president and chief financial officer of Robbins & Henderson, LLC., a New York financial services firm. Dr. Richard F. Edlich, professor emeritus of plastic surgery and biomedical engineering at U.Va., is a longtime supporter of faculty inventors and the U.Va. Patent Foundation.

 U.Va. Patent Foundation

Established in 1977, the U.Va. Patent Foundation works with faculty inventors to protect and license inventions with commercial potential. Royalties earned from the sale of products and services based on these inventions fund the operations of the Patent Foundation, support the University’s research programs and profit the inventors.

For more information, contact Robert MacWright. U.Va. Patent Foundation executive director and CEO, by phone at (434) 924-2175 or by email at rsm7x@virginia.edu.