Peter Little on Gene Patenting
  Peter Little     Biography    
Recorded: 30 May 2003

I think the truth is that we have to realists in this. In a better world we wouldn’t have to patent things. We wouldn’t have to do these things. But, actually, companies need to make money and if companies don’t make money, then we don’t make drugs, things don’t get better. So we just have to recognize that there are commercial realities. And what we have to do is to steer through that. So I hate companies, and there are very few of them that are stupid enough to do it. I hate companies that, for instance, would try and close down academic research based upon one of their patents. And there are companies that are trying to do this. They go in and ask for sums of money and I think that they shouldn’t. And I am quite happy to fight for those in more cases, but it’s a very expensive business and so you have to live with it.

As for patenting genes, I actually held a patent on a gene for a while and then we let it lapse. The only reason for doing it is in principle it gives you some protection against that information being exploited. And it that’s done by a private company then that’s no longer true. So there’s a good reason for patenting and bad reasons for patenting. And even within the bad reasons, the reality is that you have to have some patents. I mean I think it’s clear now that it can’t be done. I would not see the patenting of the human genome as a desirable thing. And fortunately it’s not capable of being done, so that’s okay. But that would be a patent that I think we would have to fight.

Peter Little is a bioinformatics researcher, professor of medical biochemistry and the head of the School of Biotechnology and Biomolecular Sciences at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia. He received his Ph.D. working with recombinant DNA under Ed Southern and Peter Walker at Edinburgh University. In 1976, Little cloned a human gene – the second time this was ever accomplished.

Little’s laboratory studies the genetic basis of gene expression, and genetic variation as it pertains to the regulatory regions of the genes. He has hypothesized that there are two types of genetic variation that alter gene expression. His lab has also created advanced techniques for testing genetically influenced transcript variations.

He comes to Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory regularly for genome meetings and symposia.