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The Circle of Life

By Linda Lewis.

I worked for Monsanto for eight years as a research chemist when I transferred to the Patent Department as a trainee. I was halfway through night law school. Upon graduation from law school in Massachusetts, I transferred to Monsanto World Headquarters in St. Louis to work in the Patent Dept. In 1986, as a newly minted Patent Attorney (translation: I had passed the Missouri State Bar and the U.S. Patent Bar), I worked with researchers at Monsanto, preparing, filing and prosecuting patent applications.

One of the inventors I worked with was Dan Getman. He was working on developing a resin for solid phase peptide synthesis, in the hot new field, biochemistry. It’s hard to imagine, but when I graduated from the University of Texas with a chemistry degree, there was no biochemistry degree, and only a few biochemistry electives. I was able to get Monsanto Co., Dan and his colleagues four patents on solid phase peptide synthesis.*

Many years have passed since working with Dan. I went from full time attorney to part time attorney, while raising my three children. Monsanto had a head count reduction, and I went from in-house attorney to private practice, to law firm co-founder and co-owner of CreatiVenture Law. While raising my three children, I exposed them to science in the form of the Queeny Science Fair, Jr. Science Engineering and Humanities Symposium competitions, Jr. Academy of Science, and US FIRST Robotics. My son is now an Aerospace Engineer with graduate credentials; my first daughter is a Medicinal Chemistry graduate student; and my second daughter is an Art Education major with a keen knack for selling her custom jewelry on-line.

My first daughter, Christy, is at the University of Kansas, Lawrence working on her PhD. This summer she gave my husband and me a tour of the lab where she was working. She was explaining her procedure for synthesizing peptides. It sounded eerily familiar. That was because it was the procedure, or a variation of the procedure, I had helped patent twenty-six years before.

We’ve all heard the song, The Circle of Life, and this realization was that moment for me. And this, in one short story, is the beauty of the US patent system. This system, embedded in our Constitution, rewards the efforts of inventors by giving them a twenty year monopoly on their invention. In return the inventor has to publish his invention, thereby advancing technology when other scientists read and benefit from it. If that system were not in place, Monsanto wouldn’t have hired Dan, and Dan would probably have not invented the solid state peptide synthesis that I helped patent. Fast forward twenty-six years, a graduate student in Kansas would not be learning peptide synthesis using the no-longer patented (it has expired) but published method. It’s a great system that works. It’s a system that I love being a part of.

*US 4,764,594
US 4,764,595
US 4,801,665
US 4,879,371

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