Edward F. McKie Jr., a Washington lawyer who successfully argued to the U.S. Supreme Court that microorganisms were patentable, died on July 31 of congestive heart failure. He was 78.
McKie graduated from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and received his law degree from Georgetown University. In 1960, McKie co-founded the Washington D.C. law firm Irons, Birch, Swindler & McKie, the predecessor firm to Banner & Witcoff. He was a member of the Advisory Committee to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and on the International Industrial Property Panel for the U.S. Department of State. He also testified before various Congressional committees on patent matters.
McKie was best known for representing Ananda Chakrabarty, a scientist who sought to patent a genetically engineered bacterium capable of breaking down crude oil. Chakrabarty’s application was denied by the Patent Office because regulations said living things could not be patented. After 10 years of litigation, McKie argued the Diamond v. Chakrabarty case before the U.S. Supreme Court. In a 5-4 decision, the Court ruled that a live, artificially engineered microorganism could be patented.
McKie also spent 38 years teaching intellectual property law at Georgetown University. He received a Silver Vicennial Medal in 2002 for his loyal and distinguished service at the school.