Elbert Branscomb on Gene Patenting
  Elbert Branscomb     Biography    
Recorded: 30 May 2003

So I don’t sound too silly to my own ears, my opinions on a subject like this are of no moment. I’m just a guy who drives a truck so far as these issues are involved and I’m just emotional about it. I think I’m orthodox in believing that patenting is an extremely important device to get investment in discoveries of great importance to society and to people and so on. And without that it would not work, I think. So the issue isn’t patenting or not. The issue is as many others have said,, so I’m just parroting people who know and with whom I find myself agreeing, the critical thing is to be sure that patents come at the right stage in the discovery process, and really reward and protect serious investment, serious creative investment, rather than just automatic discovery. So the idea that you can just grind, that you just do something dumb like sequencing and grind out genomes and then just patent any gene that you can guess a phenotype for is so much at the wrong level. It is orders of magnitude wrong. It is extremely destructive in my view, and a perversion of the intent and purpose of patent law. I think it will probably not have—it will have less injurious effects in the actual playing out of life than one might imagine, I believe, but again I’m just guessing in the dark. I have no real idea. But it does unbelievably offend me that one can patent general ideas like going into soil samples, sequencing bacterial genomes and just that idea of doing that can be patented. Just seems to me a terrible, terrible thing!

Elbert Branscomb received his B.A. in physics from Reed College (1957) and his Ph.D. in Theoretical Physics from Syracuse University (1964). In 1964 he joined Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) as a theoretical physicist and became a senior biomedical scientist in 1969. In 1986, when the Department of Energy (DOE) initiated a program to map and sequence the human genome, he assumed responsibility for the computational and mathematical component of LLNL's human genome program. In 1996 Dr. Branscomb was named the Director of the DOE's Joint Genome Institute. Since November of 2000, he has held the position of Chief Scientist, US DOE Genome Program. In this capacity, he assists the DOE's Office of Biological and Environmental Research in the furtherance of its genomics-related research programs. In recognition of his scientific accomplishments, he was awarded the Edward Teller Fellowship in 2001.