UC Berkeley will auction NFTs of Nobel Prize-winning inventions to fund research

The NFT for Jim Allison’s Nobel Prize-winning invention was minted on May 27 and will go up for auction next week on Foundation, an Ethereum platform.

Most of us will never win a Nobel Prize, but the University of California, Berkeley, is offering everyone the opportunity to purchase the next best thing: nonfungible tokens (NFTs) for the patent disclosures at the heart of two Nobel Prize-winning inventions from the university’s research labs.

The NFTs link to online digitized documents — internal forms and correspondence that document the initial research findings that led to two of the most important biomedical breakthroughs of the 21 stcentury: CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing, for which UC Berkeley’s Jennifer Doudna shared the 2020 Nobel in Chemistry; and cancer immunotherapy, for which James Allison shared the 2018 Nobel in Physiology or Medicine. UC Berkeley will continue to own the relevant patents.

The university minted an NFT for Allison’s cancer immunotherapy invention today (May 27) in advance of a 24-hour auction that will begin after the piece is listed as early as Wednesday, June 2. The auction will take place on Foundation ( foundation.app), an Ethereum-based NFT auction platform. Ethereum is a blockchain network that uses ether, or ETH, for transactions. The proceeds of the auction in ETH will fund education and innovative research at UC Berkeley, including work in the campus’s blockchain hub, Blockchain at Berkeley.

NFTs keep on giving

UC Berkeley will receive 85% of the auction price, while 15% will go to Foundation. But the NFT will keep on giving: UC Berkeley will receive 10% of the proceeds of any subsequent sale of the NFT, with Foundation receiving 5%.

“Foundation has helped set industry standards for groundbreaking NFTs, including Edward Snowden’s fundraiser for Freedom of the Press Foundation, New York Times writer Kevin Roose’s sale of a published article, and now UC Berkeley’s NFT, which will push their crucial academic research forward,” said Lindsay Howard, head of community at Foundation. “NFTs represent anything of value, which can include an artwork, a meme, or even academic research. We’re just starting to see the beginning of what’s possible, and certainly being able to support Nobel Prize-winning cancer research is at the forefront.”

“Auctioning NFTs of Nobel Prize-winning invention disclosures to fund research and spotlight discoveries exemplifies the creative environment that UC Berkeley stokes,” said Mike Alvarez Cohen, director of innovation ecosystem development in UC Berkeley’s intellectual property office. “Berkeley just might have pioneered a new NFT category and a way for universities to memorialize and monetize their history-making discoveries.”

Memorializing breakthrough discoveries

An NFT for Doudna’s CRISPR-Cas9 patent disclosures will be minted at a future date. UC Berkeley has received 44 CRISPR-based patents in the U.S. and dozens of foreign patents, including the original patent filing.

Lyons emphasized that, aside from raising money for basic research, which is increasingly necessary in order to fund innovative work, the NFTs highlight the key role that basic university research plays in all scientific breakthroughs.

“Yeah, there was a Nobel Prize, but we want to remind people that the work of a Jennifer Doudna or a Jim Allison started somewhere, and that was a research university, and in particular, this research university: Berkeley,” he said. “Basic research like this just blossoms and blossoms and produces so many possibilities and applications for society and feeds back to fuel further scientific advancement.”

“Berkeley is always at the forefront. Why not use a revolutionary new mechanism for memorializing these breakthrough discoveries and industry-defining inventions?” said Randy Katz, UC Berkeley vice chancellor for research.

UC Berkeley’s offer of these NFTs draws upon the university’s leadership in the blockchain area, ranging from faculty and researchers who are leaders in blockchain to the #1 ranked blockchain student group, Blockchain at Berkeley, and the diversity-focused nonprofit she256, which started on the UC Berkeley campus and whose members contributed significantly to the creation of these NFT offerings.



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