Arnold Lipman once succeeded in selling Soviet research to U.S. enterprise. Now the 60-year-old Pinellas entrepreneur wants to do it again.
After three years of work on the project, Lipman earlier this year signed preliminary contracts with Soviet officials that will give him access to the research of Moscow State University's microelectronics labs.
He has teamed with Leonid Rubin, a bio-physicist professor, who provided the link to Moscow State's micro-electronics labs.
The partners now are seeking $3-million from 10 to 15 limited partners to start the company and employ a staff. Lipman said he has received interest from major corporations, which, as limited partners, would have the right of "first look" at the research.
The company, called International Technology Exchange Corp., or Intex, will hire nine specialists _ experts trained in highly technical fields such as physics, pharmaceuticals and metallurgy, Lipman said. They will try to market the research to U.S. corporations that can use it in manufacturing or services. Intex will receive 50 percent of the revenue, with the remainder going back to Moscow State University. The corporation ends up with the technology.
As the venture is being formed, most U.S. corporations are reeling from an economic downturn and are showing a reluctance for new investments. But Lipman and Rubin say the timing is right to forge U.S.-Soviet links.
Funding for Soviet research is vanishing amid cuts in defense and other spending. Many professors and scientists will have to find other sources, such as U.S. corporations, to finance their studies, Lipman said.
Meanwhile, there's a demand for joint ventures with U.S. entrepreneurs. Soviets, unsure about how to react in a capitalist world, are looking for U.S. consultants and contacts, Lipman said.
"There's a short window of opportunity, about three to four years, before the Soviet Union figures out how to market the technology themselves," Lipman said. "By then, I hope to be established."
Rubin, who was in the bay area last week to join Lipman in the search for partners, said Soviets are seeking joint ventures with U.S. businesses amid the diminishing state controls in the Soviet Union.
"We're so different," Rubin said. "We need to understand what fits into the market, what does not fit in. It is a problem to find the common language."
The Soviet Union, plagued by economic stagnation and desperate for new currency, is encouraging such ventures by slashing bureaucratic red tape and passing laws to encourage foreign investment.
The Soviet Union has been buying and selling research in the United States for about 20 years through a closely controlled agency. As controls are relaxed, however, the amount of technology available for transfer between the two countries has grown.
Several companies have been formed to sell old U.S. technology to Russian companies. Others, such as Lipman's, are doing the reverse, looking for U.S. markets for research from Soviet universities _ schools that rank among the world's best. They want to unlock secrets that were produced by years of scientific research and study and later shelved for lack of demand.
When matched with the right U.S. corporation, they say, such technology can be worth millions of dollars and provide revolutionary medicines or industrial equipment.
"Some of these technologies have implications in a billion-dollar market," said John Ziker with Kiser Research Inc., a Washington, D.C., consulting firm that introduces Soviet research to U.S. companies and has talked with Lipman about his venture.
"There's a lot there," Ziker said. "You have to know how to look for it."
Lipman began his relationship with Russian officials in 1979 when his Brussels, Belgium, company was asked to provide eyeglass lenses for the Soviet Union.
A friendship with professor Svyatoslav Fyodorov, director of the Moscow Research Institute of Eye Microsurgery, and his interest in the country's research laboratories led to his concept for Medical Technology Development Corp., known as MedTech. "I was so impressed by knowledge over there," Lipman said, "and no one was tapping it."
MedTech, which he established in Pinellas County in 1985, has a contract to license and sell technology developed at the Moscow Research Institute of Eye Microsurgery. He sold the company for an undisclosed price in 1986 to the giant Bausch & Lomb Inc. of Rochester, N.Y.
Bausch & Lomb has since sold some of the MedTech technologies, including a manufacturing process for surgical knives. But the acquisition of the company formed the basis for Bausch & Lomb's pharmaceuticals division, and one Soviet invention, a collagen shield that serves a bandage for the eye, has become a major Bausch & Lomb product, a spokeswoman for the company said.
Meanwhile, Lipman, who wanted to pursue other links with the Soviet Union, met Rubin in 1989 at a medical exposition. Rubin, the head of a lab within Moscow State's microelectronics division, was already studying plans to sell technology.
"In the Soviet Union, you had only one user, the state," he said. Scientists had no controls over their research and rarely learned whether it was successfully used by Soviet industry, he said.
But as government controls were relaxed, he and other Soviet scientists began to look for more control over their research and for profitable ventures.
Under his guidance, Moscow State formed a German company that will act as the funnel for the technology. Rubin, as an owner and officer of the company, has signed the preliminary agreements with Lipman.
The Intex business plan includes a list of some of the available technologies such as a system for early detection of cancer, a technology that allows insulin to be taken in pills, an improved artificial heart valve. Last week, Rubin arrived in the bay area with more than a dozen files of additional scientific discoveries to add to the list.
Once a U.S. corporation licenses or buys Russian technology, it still may require years of additional testing and approvals before the science can be used in the United States.
But Rubin and Lipman dismissed any perception that Soviet research is not as sophisticated as that in the United States. It's all "top level," said Rubin.
Lipman, meanwhile, anticipates even more Soviet technology will flow into the United States. He is being contacted now by other Moscow scientists who want to sell research.