Monday, July 7, 2008

Olive oil inspired inventive thoughts:

The Wall Street Journal of June 7, 2007, and New York Times, had two major articles on patent reform. The problem is that the reporters don't know enough about patent practices to realize a lot of what they are being told (and then reporting), especially from PTO management, is nonsense. The Wall Street Journal article started out with "U.S. patent law, already shaken up by a Supreme Court ruling this spring, ...". I assume he is referring to KSR, but did the KSR decision, with its bad semantics, really shake up much about obviousness? Or was it just a tweak, a papal reminder to the CAFC of who has the real authority. Interestingly, an article in the food section of the New York Times has a good example of a non-obvious discovery. The article is titled "Extra virgin anti-inflammatories" (NY Times, 6 June 2007, D3), and reports on annual tastings of extra virgin olive oils. But it includes a mention of a scientific discovery, as follows:
At the 1999 international workshop on molecular and physical gastronomy [in Sicily], ... the physicists Ugo and Beatrice Palma brought along [olive] oil freshly pressed from their own trees. Dr. Gary Beauchamp [director of the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia] tasted the oil and felt his throat burn, as did I and all the other attendees [a side effect of very aromatic virgin olive oils]. But he was the only one who immediately thought of ibuprofen. Not an obvious thought? Dr. Beauchamp happened to be an ibuprofen connoisseur. He and a Monell colleague, Dr. Paul Breslin, had been trying to help a manufacturer replace acetaminophen with ibuprofen in its liquid cold and flu medicine. The medicine tasted fine until it was swallowed. Consumer panels described the unpleasant sensation as bitterness, but Dr. Beauchamp recognized it as an irritation akin to the pungency of black pepper and chilies, strangely localized to the back of the throat. And he recognized it again in Sicily. "The moment I felt that burn from Ugo and Beatrice's oil, I saw the whole picture in my head.", Dr. Beauchamp recalled last week. "There's a natural analogue of ibuprofen in olive oil, and it could have anti-inflammatory properties too." He, Dr. Breslin and several collaborators confirmed that the pungent substance in olive oil is a phenolic chemical, which they name oleocanthal. And they showed that oleocanthal is even more effective than ibuprofen at inhibiting enzymes in the body that create inflammation. ... [In a 2005 Nature article], they suggested that the oleocanthol in pungent olive oils might be one of the things that make traditional Mediterranean diets so healthful. A deliciously non-obvious discovery!

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