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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

For Sale: A Slice of Russian Ingenuity

Forget oil, gas and diamonds, Russia's greatest resource is the ingenuity of its people.

That's the message Yury Lebedev is pushing, and the man who once ran Russia's now-defunct Innovations Ministry is confident that the nation's inventors can make both Russia and him wealthy.

"Intellectual industrial property is probably Russia's last untapped resource," Lebedev says.

As president of Vedushchaya Gruppa, he sees Russia's biggest potential cash cow as its high-tech inventions, most of them developed for the defense industry and yet to be converted to commercial use.

Experts have often said that this intellectual property, if put to proper industrial uses, would be worth billions of dollars. But the absence of method or money to take them from the research lab to the world market has left an enormous mass of state-of-the-art intellectual property unclaimed.

That's where the Vedushchaya Gruppa steps in. A consortium of 30 state and private companies, Vedushchaya aims to give these technologies the firm financial backing they need to make the switch over to consumer use. The consortium includes entities such as Litsezintorg, the country's principal exporter of new technologies; the Sovtekh group, whose Moscow-based plant produces modern customs checking equipment; and the Moscow Institute of Aviation and Technology.

Vedushchaya Gruppa currently has about 40 projects in the works, ranging from a medical treatment based on amino acids to new electric condensers that recharge more rapidly than standard automobile batteries.

The medical treatment, developed by the Peptos center, produces new drugs that regulate the human body's immune system through the use of peptides, amino acids that play a major role in the natural operation of the body's immune system. The drugs either stimulate increased production of peptides by the body or use synthesized peptides.

The full cycle of converting an invention to commercial use - including evaluations, development, marketing and finally the sale of its license - lasts from two to 2 1/2 years, Lebedev says. At the end of that period, the invention usually goes for $500,000 to $5 million.

Since being set up three years ago, Vedushchaya Gruppa has sold 20 technologies to buyers in more than 25 countries in Europe, North America, Africa and Southeast Asia. Another 15 contracts are expected to be signed this year.

A market for converting innovations into sellable goods is just being formed in Russia, says Lebedev, 46.

But he said that companies dealing with innovations have largely been focusing on simply reselling inventions abroad or, at best, providing services for protecting patents.

A native of Siberia and a geo-physicist by training, Lebedev himself has more than 200 inventions to his credit. Perhaps the most well-known of them is the silovoi element, or force element, a portable rock splitter that permits mines and tunnels to be built using hydraulic pressure rather than explosives, mechanical or sonic energy.

Lebedev, who served as the federal innovations minister from 1991 to 1993, says it was an uphill struggle when he first went about trying to set up a government-backed system to make inventions sellable.

"The innovation system we were trying to build was based on government loans that had to be returned," he says. "Such a system, received enthusiastically by developers of new technologies, was, however, fiercely resisted by officials who found it more to their advantage to extract bribes for distributing subsidies, rather than returnable credits."

But now, most state-owned property - intellectual or otherwise - has been either sold off or sealed up by various state agencies, leaving only inventors and their new inventions on the market.

Efforts are under way to launch training programs to teach others how to sell inventions, and there are also plans to set up a nationwide network to keep track of promising ideas and technologies.

"We know that by our work in the regions we are creating competitors for ourselves," Lebedev says. "But we also know there will be even more for us to do when this market is properly developed."