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Empowering chemistry through intellectual property

by Carlyn Burton, chair, ACS Committee on Patents and Related Matters
October 23, 2023 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 101, Issue 35


Carlyn Burton.
Credit: Tracy Eason
Carlyn Burton

Intellectual property (IP) enables innovations and drives our economy. IP protections for novel scientific technologies benefit the discoverers and inventors—and the general public as well, who enjoy the advantages of commercialized technologies. Our legal system provides the ability to protect and leverage IP in the form of patents, trade secrets, trademarks, and copyrights—and, in doing so, incentivizes the development and commercialization of scientific technologies.

As the American Chemical Society seeks to advance the broader chemistry enterprise and its practitioners for the benefit of Earth and its people, the ACS Committee on Patents and Related Matters (CPRM) understands that part of that advancement includes fostering the development, protection, and recognition of innovative chemistry.

The ACS committee on patents has existed almost continuously since 1899, and its current structure and charge have been in place since 1966. The committee is composed of individuals representing viewpoints from all aspects of the IP system, including inventors and creators, technology-transfer professionals, and IP practice professionals. CPRM recognizes that it possesses a unique opportunity and charge to promote IP to encourage invention and innovation in chemistry.

CPRM recognizes that it possesses a unique opportunity and charge to promote IP to encourage invention and innovation in chemistry.

CPRM recently approved a new strategic plan and, through this process, has stated its vision to be “empowering chemistry through intellectual property.” To achieve this vision, CPRM has also stated its mission as “supporting all ACS members and the chemistry enterprise to advance intellectual property through advocacy, outreach, education, and recognition.”

Advocating for a strong and equitable IP system

When Congress has pending legislation or the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) is exercising its rulemaking authority, CPRM provides comments where appropriate on the proposals’ impact on the chemistry enterprise. To assist with this process, CPRM has developed a prioritized list of specific legislative and policy positions that address the chemistry community’s IP needs. This prioritized list forms part of the ACS “Intellectual Property” position statement, and its general focus is on maintaining the consistent, world-class, and equitable examination of patents and improving the efficiency of the patenting process to ensure that the time and money of patent applicants are not wasted. The position statement expires at the end of 2023, and an updated version is currently going through the approval process.

Supporting a greater understanding of IP

CPRM also works to foster and provide IP education for students and professionals in the chemistry enterprise. We are excited to be launching a new website soon as a resource of vetted information about IP, particularly IP relevant to the chemistry enterprise. CPRM collaborates with divisions, regional meetings, and local sections within ACS, as well as with external groups, such as the USPTO, to ensure that ACS members have the knowledge and skills to navigate the intricacies of the IP system and appropriately protect their innovations and creations. The committee is committed to strengthening its outreach to those who are less familiar with IP protections and bringing more chemistry professionals into the IP ecosystem to help protect chemical innovation and drive our economy.

Increasing recognition for chemistry innovators

As ACS communicates the vital role of chemistry professionals and chemistry in addressing the world’s challenges, CPRM recognizes that some chemistry professionals are innovators and creators. To support ACS’s goals, CPRM recommends to the ACS Board of Directors chemists who should be nominated for the National Medal of Technology and Innovation, the National Inventors Hall of Fame, and the National Women’s Hall of Fame. These accolades can highlight and acknowledge the IP contributions of those working in the chemistry enterprise. CPRM strives to nominate highly qualified chemists from diverse backgrounds for these honors. We recognize the importance of representation among awards and other recognitions—seeing highly successful professionals like ourselves can motivate us to achieve our potential. We do not want future generations to know only the names Thomas Edison or Louis Pasteur. We also want them to know of Carolyn Bertozzi and Marinda Wu and recognize the contributions of these chemistry innovators.

CPRM continues to use its influence to support and improve the IP protection system for the chemistry enterprise. If you would like to work with us or have suggestions to improve our efforts, please contact us at

Views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of C&EN or ACS.



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