How much will someone be willing to pay for a few pages of a quarter-century of bureaucratic university papers turned into a blockchain-encoded digital work of art?
The University of California, Berkeley, has some hopes and will soon find out.
Berkeley announced Thursday that it will auction the first of two digital works of art known as non-fungible tokens, or NFTs, next week. The offered subject matter is based on a document called the Invention and Technology Disclosure. This is the form researchers at Berkeley fill out to inform the university of discoveries that have the potential to turn into lucrative patents.
The title of the invention from 1996 is “Blockade of T lymphocyte downregulation in connection with CTLA-4 signaling”.
The university hopes that potential bidders will be attracted by an early description of a revolutionary approach to cancer treatment developed by James P. Allison, then a professor at Berkeley. He found a way to turn off the immune system’s aversion to tumors and showed that it worked in mice.
That advance eventually led to the development of Yervoy, a drug used to treat metastatic melanoma, and Dr. Allison, who now works at the MD Anderson Cancer Center, received the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 2018.
Thus, the Berkeley Disclosure Form could be considered the scientific equivalent of Mickey Mantle’s rookie baseball card – a memento of the beginnings of greatness.
“I consider it almost a scientific artifact of history,” said Richard K. Lyons, Berkeley’s chief innovation and entrepreneurship officer. “Imagine someone saying, ‘I want to own the NFTs for the 10 most important scientific discoveries of my life.” “
A 24-hour NFT auction held by Dr. Allison’s invention disclosure will take place as early as June 2nd through the Foundation, an NFT auction marketplace using Ethereum, the preferred cryptocurrency network for NFT collectors.
85 percent of the proceeds go to Berkeley to fund research, the rest to the foundation. If the piece is later resold, Berkeley receives 10 percent of the sale and Foundation 5 percent.
Since making an NFT requires a lot of computing power, some of the money the university makes from NFT sales is used for carbon offsets to offset energy usage, Berkeley officials said.
The second NFT that Berkeley plans to auction in the coming weeks will be the disclosure form describing the CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing invention by Jennifer A. Doudna, Professor of Molecular and Cell Biology at Berkeley. She shared the 2020 Nobel Prize in Chemistry with Emmanuelle Charpentier from the Max Planck Unit for the Science of Pathogens for her work on the technology.
NFTs have become trendy collectibles in the past few months. A unique code embedded in a digital image or video serves as proof of its authenticity and is stored on a blockchain, the same technology that underlies digital currencies such as Bitcoin. NFTs can then be bought and sold like baseball cards, and the blockchain ensures that they cannot be deleted or forged.
A staggering number of documents, well beyond traditional works of art, have been sold as NFTs. Jack Dorsey, the founder of Twitter, sold an NFT of his first tweet for $ 2.9 million. Kevin Roose, a columnist for the New York Times, sold an NFT of his article on NFTs for more than half a million dollars. (The money went to the Times’ Neediest Cases Fund.)
The pages of Dr. Allison’s disclosure form, taken from the Berkeley archives, makes for a mostly dry read. There is a letter dated July 11, 1995 from Carol Mimura, a licensee in Berkeley, in which she was with Dr. Allison thanks for contacting the university’s technology licensing office and asking them to fill out some forms. Another page is Berkeley’s patent policy.
The documents reflect strangely archaic technologies used in the mid-1990s – typewriters, fax machines, and handwritten notes. “I am trying to protect patentable material by the end of July,” says a memo from Dr. Mimura, now Deputy Vice Chancellor for Intellectual Property and Industrial Research Alliances.
A fax from Dr. Allison to Dr. Mimura is a simple chart with three lines and 21 data points. “Carol – These are the dates that got us excited,” said Dr. Allison scrawled.
His research group experimented with colon cancer in mice and blocking CTLA-4 – a protein receptor that acts as an on-off switch for the immune system – “resulted in tumor rejection in 5/5 mice,” said Dr. Allison wrote.
Until now, these forms, which were filed unseen, had no value, admits Dr. Allison a.
“The very first encounter with the world is something like, ‘This is the invention disclosure,’” he said. “But if they have seen this purpose historically, they don’t get any attention.”
The NFT idea came from Michael Alvarez Cohen, director of innovation ecosystem development at Berkeley’s intellectual property office. He said part of the idea came after Walter Isaacson’s publication of “The Code Breaker,” a biography of Dr. Doudna. His friends and relatives told him they didn’t know that much of the gene editing technology came from Berkeley.
“So I thought, ‘Maybe we should publish excerpts from the invention disclosure to encourage this,” “he said.
At the same time, he followed news on blockchain and NFTs.
“Then I put the two together about a month ago,” said Mr. Cohen. Take Nobel Laureate Research Invention Disclosures like CRISPR, turn them into NFTs, “and raise awareness and also fund research by auctioning the NFTs.”
He stuck with the idea for a while.
“I have a lot of ideas,” said Cohen. “Some of them have bone heads and everything.”
A little over two weeks ago he began discussing it with his colleagues, and a plan was quickly in place. In addition to CRISPR, they decided to continue the work of Dr. Highlight Allison.
The Allison NFT is more than a simple digital document. “It’s a combination of a lab notebook and digital art,” said Cohen. A single image is 10 pages long, but you can zoom in and read the documents. “I really wanted to keep the opportunity to read the story and see the beauty of the picture,” he said.
The designers of the NFT also added subtle allusions to the initial opposition to Dr. Allison’s ideas. The sides are all tilted slightly because “people looked at him askew,” said Cohen. “There are a lot of little things like this in art.”
Dr. Lyons hesitated to predict how much the artwork would fetch at auction. “I would be surprised if it cost less than $ 100,000,” he said. “That could be seven digits. This is a new category, and it’s hard to price something that is a new category. “