In his Jan. 6 Perspectives article "Perpetuate Pittsburgh's Progress," University of Pittsburgh Chancellor Mark Nordenberg served a barrage of pleadings for government support for universities, emphasizing, as usual, their research activities. Chancellor Nordenberg's assertion that Pitt's research "has helped propel virtually all of the technology-based regional economic development initiatives launched in the past three decades" must come as news to the innovators at PPG, Bayer, Alcoa, Eaton, Kennametal and elsewhere whose new products and processes during that period kept them competitive while paying taxes. One can only wonder how anyone from Edison to Bill Gates to Steve Jobs ever managed to put together a dime and an idea without the help of a university or a government, in some cases after providentially dropping out of college.
The universities' resources being practically endless, their efforts will escalate to a tsunami of lobbying in Harrisburg in coming weeks, so here is some advice for our legislators: Take a long look at the $1.17 billion patent infringement verdict won by Carnegie Mellon University in December and ask, when does a university's non-profit status terminate? Then look at the co-sponsorships for many of the last 100 or so U.S. patents obtained by Pitt and ask about royalty income. Ask how government research grants are obtained, and the total amount. If profit is not a motive for Pitt, do royalties contribute to a bottom line?
See if Pitt's research business is headed toward sustainability without subsidies. And ask why, whenever it is subsidy time, all we hear about is science and technology, not athletics, administrative overkill, advocacy for this or that social cause, or property acquisition, such as the University Club taken off the tax rolls without a plan for it, simply because it was for sale.
Legislators, be ready! Taxpayers, be watchful!
WILLIAM L. KRAYER
The letter writer is a patent attorney.