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02/28/99- Updated 01:21 PM ET

Computer mouse creator wins invention prize

NEW YORK - He invented the computer mouse, fathered e-mail and the Internet, and set up a computer-video teleconference back when such was the stuff of science fiction.

And on Wednesday, Douglas Engelbart - hardly a household name - was awarded the largest cash prize for American inventors.

Engelbart accepted the $500,000 Lemelson-MIT Prize as he cradled the world's very first mouse. He patented the wooden shell covering two metal wheels in 1970 as an "X-Y position indicator for a display system."

"It was nicknamed the mouse because the tail came out," the soft-spoken Engelbart, 72, said as he tugged on the attached slim wire cord.

Engelbart worked at Stanford Research Institute in California in the 1950s, when mainframes took up entire rooms and data was processed with punch cards. But Engelbart dared to think of a future where computers would sit on every desk in every office and school room.

"For me, the social agenda was the driving force."

He referred to his work as "augmenting human intellect," but it boiled down to making computers user-friendly.

"With his help, the computer has become a friendly servant rather than a stern taskmaster," said economist Lester Thurow, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and chairman of the prize board.

In 1968, Engelbart's team demonstrated a two-way computer-video teleconference. His lab also pioneered the U.S. government's primary research network in the 1970s and 1980s that was the precursor to today's Internet.

Computer industry giants paid homage to Engelbart, who holds 20 patents that paved the way for e-mail, computer networking and the Internet.

"Doug pioneered network computing technologies when it was not popular to do so," said Sun Microsystems' CEO Scott McNealy.

The award is funded by Jerome H. Lemelson, who has more than 500 U.S. patents. The prize board also gave Nobel Prize winner Gertrude Elion a lifetime achievement award. She holds 45 patents, two of which are for her work as co-inventor of the first successful drugs against leukemia.

By The Associated Press

Copyright 1999 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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