Berkeley, CA

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

Ed Walsh
UC Berkeley to sell NFTsUC Berkeley

The University of California, Berkeley, is offering the opportunity to purchase the 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 21st century: 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. University of California Berkeley will continue to own the relevant patents.

The university minted an NFT for Allison’s cancer immunotherapy invention on May 27 in advance of a 24-hour auction that will begin after the piece is listed as early as Wednesday, June 2.

“Someone might ask, ‘Why would I want a digital version of some internal university form?’ Because it represents something magnificent,” said Rich Lyons, UC Berkeley’s chief innovation & entrepreneurship officer. “There are people who recognize and care about symbols of great science, and even if they never intend to resell the NFT, they want to own it and they want resources to go back to Berkeley, where the basic research behind these Nobel Prizes came from, to support further research.”

“People give us donations all the time because they care about the institution and the science,” he added. “So here is a way for somebody to invest in the institution in a slightly different way.”

“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.”

A portion of the university’s proceeds will go toward carbon offsets of the energy costs of minting the NFT.

“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.”

Allison, who currently is at MD Anderson Cancer Center, has said that the academic environment at Universit of California Berkeley was key to his groundbreaking work. “I don’t know if I could have accomplished this work anywhere else than Berkeley,” he said.

“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.

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