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Robert Trigaux

In commercializing ideas, USF wins an admirer



Here's one you don't see every day. The University of South Florida is served up as a role model for another school of higher learning looking for ways to convert academic research to commercial use. Usually, it's USF looking hungrily at the Harvards and MITs and even University of Florida histories of making big bucks out of their professors' and students' ideas. So bask, USF, in an editorial in the Naples Daily News in which Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers is urged to watch and learn from its bigger brethren in Tampa Bay. It cites one effort by a USF engineering student, inspired by his own father’s Lou Gehrig’s disease, who dreamed up a project for wheelchair users to negotiate uneven or sandy terrain. Now there's a a real sign the Tampa Bay area is adding some depth: When others look to us for inspiration and know-how.

In business, it's okay to kick them when they're down. Bonita Springs homebuilder WCI Communities Inc. filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy last month, which since then has prompted Prudential Florida WCI Realty to drop WCI from its name. Perhaps for good reason. Alas, WCI now trades, sort of, on the pink sheets.

Fine, cautionary tale in today's New York Times exploring our silly and increasingly dangerous tendency to leap before we look. The story dissects the controversy last week when a Miami Lakes investment firm called Income Securities Advisors picked up a story tied to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel about a United Airlines bankruptcy and distributed it to a market information site operated by Bloomberg LP. The story was, in fact, six years old, but its recirculating gave the appearance that United had filed for bankruptcy protection again. The result? A steep selloff in United's shares that erased $1-billion in stock value in 12 minutes. It's like a financial version of the movies Fail-Safe or War Games (depending on your generation) that warns against overly automating systems (like nuclear weapons or stock trading) without the human ability to say, "Hey, wait a minute."

Last but not least this Sunday afternoon, any progress on the rescue or sale of Wall Street's Lehman Brothers? Lots of speculation. Britain's Barclay's bank is in the deal, then out. Bank of America continues to be involved, but no specifics yet. One story even suggests China Investment Corp. and financial adviser J.C. Flowers could get involved. The stumbling block -- no surprise here -- is that the feds remain unwilling to offer the same guarantees as they did in bailing out Bear Stearns a few months ago. If you're gonna change the rules, don't expect many willing buyers.

-- Robert Trigaux, Times Business Columnist


[Last modified: Tuesday, June 1, 2010 11:22am]


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