Interviewing Dr. Joseph Kennedy: About his 146 U.S. patents and what drives him to help others


Joseph P. Kennedy

Joseph P. Kennedy, PhD, MBA

Joseph Kennedy, PhD, MBA, is a scientist, inventor, author, proud family man, and survivor. He lived through the Nazi and Communist eras in Hungary and fled to Austria, receiving a Ph.D. in biochemistry in 1954 from The University of Vienna. His journey then took him to Paris, France, where he became a post-doctoral researcher in biochemistry at Sorbonne University, then to Montreal at McGill University where he met his wife. Eventually he landed in Akron, where he lives currently.

As the Distinguished Professor of Polymer Science and Chemistry at The University of Akron (UA), Dr. Kennedy has been instrumental in establishing UA as a hub for polymer research and innovation. He is the author of four scientific books, one text on intellectual property for scientists and engineers, and over 700 scientific publications on various aspects of polymer science and technology.

UA: Why did you become a scientist?

Dr. Kennedy: My family in Budapest had a liqueur manufacturing plant. My father was an industrialist. He introduced fruit liqueurs, mainly Polish in origin, in Hungary. We didn’t know things like whiskey. He was among the first to introduce whiskey to Hungarians. He wanted me to become a chemist. In those days, young people were told what to do. I was destined to inherit the whole operation. The war interfered with that destiny.

UA: You came to UA in 1970 to help build the School of Polymer Science and Polymer Engineering (College, at the time) and work in a research position. What drew you to this opportunity?

Dr. Kennedy: Maurice Morton, the Director of UA’s Institute of Rubber Research (later renamed Maurice Morton Institute of Polymer Science), recruited me to join. It was a famous institute. Morton told me I would lead the chemistry part of the institute. He needed a chemist. I thought I could put my mark there.

UA: Why did you get involved in your particular research? What was the motivation behind your work?

Dr. Kennedy: I carried out research in cationic polymerizations in industry for about 10 years before coming to UA and wanted to do my own thing my own way in my area of expertise. Polymers were very new back then. The 20th century was the century of polymers. It was very exciting to get into this field.

UA: Are you teaching currently? If so, what class/classes?

Dr. Kennedy: No classroom teaching. I do only research and mentoring young colleagues.

UA: Please tell me about your research.

Dr. Kennedy: The overarching objective of my research was always the creation (design and subsequent synthesis) of useful molecules for all kinds of uses. My objective has become increasingly medically oriented. When I worked in industry, everyone cared only about making money. That was not so important to me. What was more important was to help humanity in some way. Repay society with something. I thought medical applications would be that.

UA: Who is benefiting from your work?

Dr. Kennedy: Society. I used to be a refugee, so my allegiance is strongly American. I believe the United States is the ultimate destination for people seeking freedom and opportunity. I will never be able to fully repay this magnificent land of ours for the security and peace it gave me. Only in the U.S. could a refugee accomplish what I did after experiencing the terrible regimes of Nazis and Communists. I want to repay what was given to me and help people.

UA: If you could go back and give your 80-year-old self advice, what would it be?

Dr Kennedy: Well, if I could go back 13 years, I would advise myself not to change an iota.

UA: Congratulations on what I heard is your 146th patent in November and 145th in October. Please share a little about what you received the patents for.

Dr. Kennedy: These patents concern novel polyurethanes and processes for making them. The patent I am most known for is the one for the poly(styrene-isobutylene-styrene) triblock, known as SIBS. This copolymer is used to make the coating for coronary stents, glaucoma microtubes and intraocular lenses.

UA: What patent are you most proud of?

Dr. Kennedy: The coronary stent. The most important feature of this stent is its biocompatible coating, so the body will accept the implanted stent without inflammation. There are very few polymers you can do this with. Finding a polymer that is acceptable by your body and remains there implanted for decades is a major accomplishment. The device has been licensed by Boston Scientific Co and to date, the stent was implanted in over 6 million patients.

UA: The story in the PITCH X video about your wife requesting the Boston Scientific stent was very endearing and must have made you proud. How has your family contributed to your success as a scientist?

Dr. Kennedy: Without my family’s support I would not exist.

UA: What do you love most about what you do?

Dr. Kennedy: The a-ha moment when I suddenly understand the problem in my guts and see the way ahead.

UA: What are you most proud of in your life?

Dr. Kennedy: My family of 18 happy people down to my five great grandchildren. And of my professional recognitions that include honorary doctorates of the UA and the Technical University of Hungary, the two major international polymer awards from the American Chemical Society, the Charles Goodyear Medal, various other awards, fellowships, etc.

UA: What are your secrets to a long and healthy life?

Dr. Kennedy: Clean living, paprika and long walks in the park.

UA: What’s one thing we would be surprised to know about you?

Dr. Kennedy: I was a jazz drummer when I was young. Way back when I was a refugee in Europe, it helped me earn a living playing jazz. Benny Goodman and Buddy Rich were my idols.


Media contact: Cristine Boyd, 330-972-6476 or