CRISPR patents decided, but cases not closed

Cody Sacks

Staff Writer

Much has happened in the world of the CRISPR patent battle since Feb 15, when the United States Patent and Trademark Organization (USPTO) came to a decision about the technology’s intellectual property rights.

The USPTO decided that the rightful intellectual property owner of CRISPR in eukaryotes should be Feng Zhang, Ph.D., and The Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, instead of Jennifer Doudna, Ph.D., and the University of California, Berkley.  However, Doudna and her team are on track to obtain a European patent for CRISPR in May, and they recently filed an appeal against the USPTO’s decision.

The European Patent Office (EPO) announced on March 23 that it intends to grant a CRISPR patent to Doudna and her research partner, Emmanuelle Charpentier, who works at the University of Vienna.  The official distribution is set for May 10 after final paperwork and formalities are completed.  This patent will cover CRISPR’s use in both prokaryotes and eukaryotes, which is in contrast with the USPTO’s decision to grant The Broad intellectual property rights over CRISPR in only eukaryotes.

Most of the deciding weight of these patent organizations resides in the different parties’ initial CRISPR research.  Back in 2012, Doudna and her team published their findings of CRISPR’s discovery and detailed how the system works naturally in prokaryotes; they believe that alone is sufficient to obtain patents for CRISPR’s use in all organisms.

Photo courtesy of Pixabay
The European Patent Office (EPO) recently announced that it intends to grant a CRISPR patent to Jennifer Doudna Ph.D. and her research partner, Emmanuelle Charpentier, who works at the University of Vienna in May.

Later that same year, Zhang and The Broad published their work of applying CRISPR in small eukaryotes, leading them to desire a patent that covers CRISPR only in eukaryotes.  Eukaryotes encompass all multicellular organisms, including humans, so a patent including eukaryotes would likely be the most profitable to obtain.

The Broad Institute can appeal the EPO’s decision within nine months of the patent distribution date, and it is anticipated that they will do so.  By filing an appeal, the Broad Institute would want the EPO to recognize a difference between using CRISPR in eukaryotes and prokaryotes, and be credited for their eukaryote-specific research.

Likewise, Doudna and her team already filed an appeal against the USPTO’s patent to the Broad Institute.  They want the review committee to conclude that they deserve an all-encompassing patent for initially discovering and explaining CRISPR.

In the business world, all three main researchers involved in these patent cases have developed their own companies that focus on CRISPR: Doudna developed Intellia Therapeutics, Zhang developed Editas Medicine and Charpentier developed CRISPR Therapeutics.  Editas Medicine plans to include a wide variety of genetic issues in its repertoire, while it seems as if Intellia Therapeutics and CRISPR Therapeutics plan to work collaboratively; they both plan to specialize in a fewer number of separate genetic research topics.

Ultimately, these patents only impose a burdensome formality for the short-term licensing rights, but this legal commotion will not prevent future scientific advancement by each of the three researchers involved, or significantly affect long-term profitability for the genetic medicine market as a whole.

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