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Fellowship of The Royal Society


Gene sequence patents
Aaron Klug Scientist
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People began to patent. That was another battle I was in that was began... and which we lost. Bruce Alberts and I... Bruce Alberts was then the Head of the National Academy, and by this time I was President of the Royal Society, wrote to say that people were taking out patents... patents in gene sequences, and patents were being granted by the US Patent Office, so they had examiners who didn't understand what was going on, and the patent has to be not only novel, but you have to say what the function is. It has to be... and you have to show that you can put it to use. There are three characteristics. This had none of them. It was an attempt to appropriate something which was going to happen in the future, and... but that was yet another battle which I think we won, because the Patent Office... although these patents are still lodged, the US Patent Office will not issue just any more patents on just the gene sequence, the idea being, you see, that you own the sequence, somebody finds a use for it or develops a drug from it, or puts it to use, or something like that, and then you claim and say, 'Ah, I own that', you see, like you own a piece of a land which somebody else then exploits. And you find gold in it or whatever. So those were... and to do that, in order to do that, that was... really as President of the Royal Society I did that.

Born in Lithuania, Aaron Klug (1926-2018) was a British chemist and biophysicist. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1982 for developments in electron microscopy and his work on complexes of nucleic acids and proteins. He studied crystallography at the University of Cape Town before moving to England, completing his doctorate in 1953 at Trinity College, Cambridge. In 1981, he was awarded the Louisa Gross Horwitz Prize from Columbia University. His long and influential career led to a knighthood in 1988. He was also elected President of the Royal Society, and served there from 1995-2000.

Listeners: Ken Holmes John Finch

Kenneth Holmes was born in London in 1934 and attended schools in Chiswick. He obtained his BA at St Johns College, Cambridge. He obtained his PhD at Birkbeck College, London working on the structure of tobacco mosaic virus with Rosalind Franklin and Aaron Klug. After a post-doc at Childrens' Hospital, Boston, where he started to work on muscle structure, he joined to the newly opened Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge where he stayed for six years. He worked with Aaron Klug on virus structure and with Hugh Huxley on muscle. He then moved to Heidelberg to open the Department of Biophysics at the Max Planck Institute for Medical Research where he remained as director until his retirement. During this time he completed the structure of tobacco mosaic virus and solved the structures of a number of protein molecules including the structure of the muscle protein actin and the actin filament. Recently he has worked on the molecular mechanism of muscle contraction. He also initiated the use of synchrotron radiation as a source for X-ray diffraction and founded the EMBL outstation at DESY Hamburg. He was elected to the Royal Society in 1981 and is a member of a number of scientific academies.

John Finch is a retired member of staff of the Medical Research Council Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, UK. He began research as a PhD student of Rosalind Franklin's at Birkbeck College, London in 1955 studying the structure of small viruses by x-ray diffraction. He came to Cambridge as part of Aaron Klug's team in 1962 and has continued with the structural study of viruses and other nucleoproteins such as chromatin, using both x-rays and electron microscopy.

Tags: US Patent Office, Bruce Alberts

Duration: 1 minute, 30 seconds

Date story recorded: July 2005

Date story went live: 24 January 2008