Replication origins are 'licensed' for a single initiation event by loading Mcm2-7 complexes during late mitosis and G1. Licensing is blocked at other cell cycle stages by the activity of cyclin-dependent kinases and a small protein called geminin. Here, we describe the effects of over-expressing a non-degradable form of geminin in various cell lines. Geminin expression reduced the quantity of Mcm2 bound to chromatin and blocked cell proliferation. U2OS (p53+/Rb+) cells showed an early S phase arrest with high cyclin E and undetectable cyclin A levels, consistent with the activation of an intra-S checkpoint. Saos2 (p53-/Rb-) cells showed an accumulation of cells in late S and G2/M with approximately normal levels of cyclin A, consistent with loss of this intra-S phase checkpoint. Geminin also induced apoptosis in both these cell lines. In contrast, IMR90 primary fibroblasts over-expressing geminin arrested in G1 with reduced cyclin E levels and no detectable apoptosis. A 'licensing checkpoint' may therefore act in primary cells to prevent passage into S phase in the absence of sufficient origin licensing. These results suggest that inhibition of the licensing system may cause cancer-specific cell killing and therefore represent a novel anti-cancer target.