Saturday, June 06, 2009

The discoverer of buckyballs, again...

A recent commenter to IPBiz (relating mainly to issues of the toxicity of buckyballs) included the statement:

Dr. Colvin is a chemist at Rice University, the institution that discovered fullerene and that gives her and her colleagues a unique perspective.

The issue of the "discovery" of buckminsterfullerene has been addressed by LBE in many articles in Intellectual Property Today and is an interesting exercise for patent lawyers.

Scientists at Exxon Corporate Research in Annandale, New Jersey identified a molecule of mass corresponding to C60 and published thereon in the Journal of Chemical Physics in 1984. They did not identify the structure of C60 in this paper, but they did possess the molecule C60 which would later be found to have the shape of a truncated icosahedron, aka buckminsterfullerene. The proposal of buckminsterfullerene was made one year later in 1985, using the same experimental methodology as that employed by the Exxon workers.

So, sorry, Paul Indeglia, IPBiz does not think "discovery" is the right word. The folks at Rice did recognize the right structure of C60, a year after the compound had been reported in the scientific literature. They didn't "discover" the molecule, and they could not have patented it. Smalley and Curl of Rice, and Kroto (then of Sussex) did get the Nobel Prize.


Blogger Paul Indeglia said...

The comments by Lawrence B. Ebert are deserving of merit.

My comment should have indicated that scientists from Rice University were credited with discovery of the fullerene molecule. This credit was issued by the Nobel Institute through awarding of the 1996 Nobel Prize for Chemistry. The website for the Nobel Institute has a profile for Dr. Robert Curl, in which he notes, "The Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded to Rick Smalley, Harry Kroto, and myself for the fruits of one of these collaborations, the discovery of the fullerenes." Assignment of the discovery of fullerene by the group from Rice University (and others, I should note) has been widely published in peer-review journals.

In fact, the development of the proclamation that the fullerene molecule existed begins before the 1984 article mentioned. Ozawa's 1970 article in Kagaku entitled "Superaromaticity" was the first mention I reviewed of such a molecule; yet it was published only in Japanese and seemed to have remained relatively unknown until after the knowledge of the fullerene molecule rose during the 1980s, which corresponded with the article published in Nature in 1985.

The unique perspective the researchers from Rice University have on fullerene molecules that I claimed in my original comment seems to me to be the more erroneous statement. An apology is extended to Sir Harold Kroto and the researchers at the University of Sussex, who share in this honor.

I support the comment of Lawrence B. Ebert in that the claim of discovery of a molecule, whether self-promoted, bestowed by an internationally renown entity, or posted by a graduate student in a blog, does not warrant issuance of a patent.

9:38 AM  

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