The historic patent story of the MRI scanner

Since 1970, Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) has played a key role in the medical world.

Raymond Damadian and Paul Lauterbur are today widely accredited by medical practitioners for implementing the use of MRI as a tool for medical diagnosis.

The first MRI scanner was developed by Dr Damadian in 1970 as a method of detecting cancer after he discovered that cancerous tissues produce abnormal nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) signals compared to normal tissues.

Less than two years later, he had developed his discovery enough to file his idea for using MRI as a tool for medical diagnosis with the U.S. Patent Office, entitled “Apparatus and Method for Detecting Cancer in Tissue.”

The patent 3,789,832 was granted in 1974, it was the world’s first patent issued in this medical field. Three years later the first MRI machine for a full body scan was built.

While credit for the original MRI scanning machine goes to Dr Damadian, recognition for the development and refinement of magnetic imaging, which helps the machine function so well, belongs mainly to chemist Dr Paul Lauterbur.

Lauterbur’s work developing the use of NMR for magnetic imaging was crucial in the ultimate success of the MRI machine as a diagnostic tool. The American chemist worked for decades to improve the accuracy and reliability of the imaging process.

Dr Lauterbur’s continuous research secured patent 5,081,992 for a “method for calculating localised magnetic resonance spectra” in 1992.

In 1997, the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit affirmed that all MRI scanners available at that time make use of Damadian patent ‘832 as all machines relied upon the relaxation time differences claimed in the Damadian patent.

In 2003, Dr Lauterbur and British chemist Sir Peter Mansfield were jointly awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their discoveries concerning MRI.

Damadian later received recognition in 2004, when he was awarded a Bower Award for scientific excellence by the Franklin Institute.

Posted on: 6th March 2019