I retired in April 2013 after 25 years as a librarian at the British Library specialising in inventions. This included running numerous workshops; writing books on inventions and a work blog; carrying out searches for clients; and one-to-one meetings with inventors. [more]


27 January 2014

Discussion on genes and patents

The British Library is hosting a discussion on genes and patents on 4 March, Talkscience: patently obvious ?

Four speakers will take questions from the audience in Cafe Scientifique style in the British Library's terrace restaurant. The theme is controversial: are genes patentable, or are they really discoveries ? Do patents encourage or hinder research and commercialisation ? The lure of money is strong, and may attract research, but being told that a patent blocks industrialising a technique is discouraging, to put it mildly.

Much more than in mechanical or electrical engineering, these are knotty problems, as the genes are actually there already -- unless modified ? I will be going, and will listen to the arguments with interest.

The discussion will be chaired by Dr Jackie Hunter, Chief Executive of the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council. The others giving short speeches, and then responding to question, will be Professor Alan Ashworth, Chief Executive of the Institute of Cancer Research; Dr Nick Bourne of Cardiff University; and Berwyn Clarke, Chairman of NALIA Systems Limited.

Ashworth was in the team that discovered and patented the BRCA2 gene, the gene for breast cancer. I learnt something on investigating: I was aware of Myriad's claim to having discovered it, but apparently there was a rival team that have posted their flag. This is a list of the 41 "World" patent applications that mention BRCA2 in their abstract. That's just for the one gene ! Also, as a patent searcher, I am aware that keyword searching alone rarely finds all the relevant material.

It's not a field I was involved with much when I worked at the British Library, as most of my clientele were private inventors or small companies, and they tended to be involved with non-biological inventions.

I look forward to learning a lot on the evening.

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