Hi-Tech Brokers Scouring Russia for Scientists and Technology
Mar. 28, 1995
NEW YORK (AP) _ Russia has become fertile shopping ground for American corporations seeking basement bargains _ and they aren't looking for caviar and vodka.
Companies are on the prowl for new Russian technology, which has become astoundingly cheap as political changes and economic problems leave many scientists and research institutes without government funding. High-quality research and development is now for sale in areas ranging from rocket science to computer screens.
``You can hire a researcher in chemistry or biology for one-tenth of what it's costing you here,'' said Jan Vanous, president of PlanEcon Inc., a U.S. investment consulting firm.
Some U.S. companies have hired entire units of research institutes in the former Soviet Union. Others are negotiating deals to license and market hundreds of Russian inventions in the United States and abroad.
AT&T Bell Laboratories, among the first to take technological advantage of the Soviet breakup, has arranged three deals with Russian scientists since 1992.
The first, with the General Physics Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences in Moscow, gave Bell Labs access to fiber-optics research and 200 scientists. AT&T paid their salaries _ about a paltry $720 a year for each one.
For Russia, the U.S. companies represent opportunities to market Russian work worldwide and replace money that used to come from the government.
The U.S. bargain hunters range from entrepreneurs to major corporations, including Corning Inc., Unisys Corp., United Technologies Corp., Ford Motor Co., General Electric Co. and the B.F. Goodrich tire company. And many Russian scientists are actively peddling their ideas.
``We are overloaded with all kinds of proposals from Russians,'' said Tanya Golub, project manager for Washington-based Kiser Research Inc., which is in the technology brokering business.
Mark Taylor, a vice president with another broker, East-West Technology Partners Ltd., said the Russians offer access to unique technologies that can complement existing research efforts. That helps companies get new products to the market cheaply and faster.
Houston-based SI Diamond Technology Inc. recently acquired the services of 200 scientists and engineers working for a subsidiary of a Russian natural gas conglomerate known as Gazprom.
The Russian company paid $5 million for up to a 20 percent stake in SI Diamond. The Russians also turned over the rights to years of research work to the company, giving SI Diamond one of the largest programs in computer flat panel display technology.
The Russians are years ahead of other countries in some science and technology fields, such as space research, metallurgy and materials technology. But they lack the skills to market their ideas, making them reliant on Western help.
Russian researchers have done work in areas requiring advanced computer analysis. And, ironically, since they lacked the help of sophisticated computers, they have developed efficient algorithms that can now add to the power of supercomputers.
They have found a way to join metals by bonding their atomic structures _ a method that's stronger than welding. They also have made computer chips out of aluminum, allowing allow circuit boards to be built more compactly because aluminum conducts heat better than standard ceramics.
The Russians also have developed a way to allow surgeons to precisely remove cancerous tissue: Patients receive a chemical compound that highlights cancerous and precancerous cells under a special lamp, eliminating the need for radical surgery in which healthy tissue is sometimes removed as a precaution.
Some concerns have been raised about the possible exploitation of Russian scientists. Many have been left virtually unemployed or starving for research money.
``There have been cases where American companies, and the U.S. government, have gone over to Russia with a rape and pillage mentality and have tried to cut deals that have been one-sided,'' Taylor said. ``It's just not good business.''