You Can Bid on NFTs Tied to Nobel Prize-Winning Discoveries

What is the price someone will pay for a few pages containing quarter-century-old university paperwork that has been made into a block-encoded piece digital art?

University of California Berkeley is optimistic about quite a lot of things.

Berkeley announced Thursday that the auction of the first of its two digital art pieces called nonfungible tokens (or NFTs) will take place next week. The document described as an invention or technology disclosure is the basis for the object being offered. This is the form Berkeley researchers use to notify the university of potential patent opportunities.

The invention’s title is from 1996: “Blockade in T-Lymphocyte Down Regulation Associated with CTLA-4 Signling.”

The university hopes to attract potential bidders to an early description about a revolutionary way to treat cancer, developed by James P. Allison back when he was a Berkeley Professor. He developed a way for the immune system to avoid attacking tumors.

This was the catalyst for the creation and use of Yervoy as a drug to treat metastatic melanoma. Dr. Allison now works at MD Anderson Cancer Center. He also shared the Nobel Prizein Medical Sciences in 2018.

Thus, the Berkeley disclosure form could be thought of as the scientific equivalent of Mickey Mantle’s rookie baseball card — a memento of the beginnings of greatness.

“I think of it almost as a history of science artifact,” said Richard K. Lyons, the chief innovation and entrepreneurship officer at Berkeley. Imagine someone saying, “I want the NFTs for 10 of the most important scientific discoveries of all time.”

An auction of Dr. Allison’s invention disclosure will be held for 24 hours starting June 2, using Foundation. This NFT auction marketplace uses Ethereum, the preferred cryptocurrency network for NFT collectors.

Eighty-five % of the proceeds will go towards Berkeley to fund research and the rest to Foundation. Berkeley will receive 10% and Foundation 5% if the piece is later resold.

Because the making of an NFT requires a lot of computing power, part of the money the university earns from the NFT sale will be used for carbon offsets to compensate for the energy consumed, Berkeley officials said.

In the next few weeks, Berkeley will auction the disclosure form that describes the CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing invention of Jennifer A. Doudna. This disclosure form is a document detailing the invention. She shared the 2020 Nobel Prize in Chemistry alongside EmmanuelleCharpentier of Max Planck Unitfor the Science of Pathogens.

NFTs are trendy collectibles these days. A unique code embedded inside a digital photo or video is used as a record to verify its authenticity. It is stored on the blockchain, the same technology that powers digital currencies like Bitcoin. The NFTs can be purchased and sold just like baseball cards.

A dizzying array of documents, far beyond traditional works of art, have been sold as NFTs. Jack Dorsey sold a NFT for his first tweet, which was $2.9 million. Kevin Roose was a New York Times columnist who sold an NFT of his article about NFTs. It cost more than half a Million USD. The money went The Times’s Necessities Fund.

The pages of Dr. Allison’s disclosure document, which was drawn from the Berkeley archives make for dry reading. There is a July 11, 1995, letter from Carol Mimura, a licensing associate at Berkeley, thanking Dr. Allison for contacting the university’s office of technology licensing and asking him to fill out some forms. Berkeley’s patent policy can be found on another page.

These documents represent the archaic technology of the mid-1990s: typewriters. Fax machines. Handwritten notes. “I am scrambling to protect patentable matter before late July,” reads a memo from Dr. Mimura, now the assistant vice chancellor for intellectual property and industry research alliances.

Dr. Allison sends Dr. Mimura the following fax: A simple chart with 21 data points and three lines. Dr. Allison wrote, “Carol — These are the data that got us excited.”

His research group was trying to prevent colon cancer from mice. Dr. Allison stated that blocking CTLA-4, which is a protein receptor that activates the immune system, “leaded to the rejection [of the tumor] in 5/5 mice.”

Until now, these forms, filed away, unseen, have had no value, Dr. Allison concedes.

He said, “The very first exposure to all the world is kind of like, “This is the invention disclosure.” Historically, they don’t get any attention once they’ve served their purpose.

Michael Alvarez Cohen was the director of innovation ecosystem in Berkeley’s intellectual-property office. He came up with the idea for NFT. He said part of the idea came after the publication of “The Code Breaker” by Walter Isaacson, a biography of Dr. Doudna. His friends and relatives told him that they had not known that much of the gene editing technology had originated at Berkeley.

“So I was like, ‘Maybe, we should post excerpts of the invention disclosure in order to promote this,” he said.

At the same time, he was following news about blockchain and NFTs.

“Then about a month ago, I put the two together,” Mr. Cohen said. Take the invention disclosures about Nobel-winning research like CRISPR, turn them into NFTs, “and drive awareness and also fund research by auctioning the NFTs.”

He contemplated the idea for a while.

“I come up with a lot of ideas,” Mr. Cohen said. “Some of these ideas are more bone-headed than others, but they can be used for everything.”

He began discussing the matter with his colleagues just over two weeks back and soon a plan was formed. They decided to highlight Dr. Allison’s CRISPR work.

The Allison NFT can be more than just a document. Cohen explained that it is a combination of digital art and lab notebooks. A single image has 10 pages. One can zoom in to read the documents. He explained that he wanted to retain the ability of reading the history, as well the beauty and beauty of the images.

In subtle nods to Dr. Allison’s initial resistance, the designers of NFT included subtle nods. Mr. Cohen said that pages are slightly tilted to show people “looked at him askew”. “There’s a lot of little things like that in the art.”

Dr. Lyons could not predict the amount of the artwork that would be sold at auction. “I’d be surprised if it went for less than $100,000,” he said. It could sell for seven figures. This is a new category, and it’s hard to price anything that is a new category.”

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