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Herchel Smith Intellectual Property lecture: Did Kary Mullis 'Really' Invent the Polymerase Chain Reaction

School of Law Podcast

Herchel Smith Intellectual Property lecture: Did Kary Mullis 'Really' Invent the Polymerase Chain Reaction

Graham Dutfield

14 February 2013

Listen to a podcast of 'Did Kary Mullis 'Really' Invent the Polymerase Chain Reaction' (mp3 approx 60 minutes). Choose 'Launch' to play video, slides and audio
  • Speaker: Professor Graham Dutfield, University of Leeds 
  • Commentator: Trevor Cook, Partner, Bird & Bird, London
  • Chair: Professor Lord Hoffmann, Queen Mary, University of London

It is a trite point that every patentable invention needs an inventor as claimant, just as every inventor needs an invention to claim possession of. However, it does not follow that objectively identifying them and then linking them together are necessarily straightforward tasks; especially in new fields like biotechnology where the creativity of nature itself provides a helping hand and inherent complexity and unpredictability may obfuscate matters further. Polymerase chain reaction (PCR), which enables small pieces of DNA to be amplified exponentially, is one of the foundational techniques in molecular biology and a vital research tool. Its (alleged) inventor, Kary Mullis, won a Nobel prize for it and was named as an inventor on the two main patents. Yet, his association with the invention was subject to continued dispute and a controversial court case, which, in the view of some highly qualified critics, resolved nothing. Using PCR as an example, this seminar offers some new interdisciplinary perspectives on the contested nature of attribution and credit in the life sciences, both within and outside patent law.

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