TS Picks: CRISPR Patent Edition

A challenge to the first CRISPR patent just got teeth.

Jan 5, 2016
Kerry Grens

USPTO’s James Madison building in Alexandria, VirginiaWIKIMEDIA, COOLCAESARCRISPR/Cas developer Feng Zhang and his institutions, MIT and the Broad Institute, earned the first patent covering the gene-editing technology. But a similar patent request was filed months earlier than Zhang’s by CRISPR pioneers Jennifer Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier, and the duo’s attorneys are challenging the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) decision.

Last month (December 21), the Patent Trial and Appeals Board agreed to look into the dispute via an “interference proceeding.” New York Law School’s Jacob Sherkow wrote on the Law and Biosciences Blog: “This has the potential to decide who owns the core CRISPR intellectual property, possibly stripping Zhang of his near-dozen patents, and shaking up hundreds of millions dollars of investment in their respective companies. . . . Needless to say, this is a monumental event for patent attorneys, molecular biologists, the PTO, and the world.”

  • Xconomy this week (January 4) reviewed the USPTO’s interference proceeding process, which is only granted when the appealing camp has made a compelling argument. “I’ve never seen an examiner recommend interference and not have it declared,” patent attorney Muna Abu-Shaar of Biospark Intellectual Property Law in Cambridge, Massachusetts, told Xconomy.
     
  • Meanwhile, Wired examined the implications of winning a CRISPR patent: “If the interference proceeding negates the Broad’s patent, that could spell the end of Editas (and all that capital!) while clearing the way for several other companies that have licensed the competing, Berkeley-originated patent. A lot is at stake.”
     
  • And speaking of Editas, The Boston Globe reported that the company this week (January 4) filed for its initial public offering, starting with $100 million in stock.

Correction (January 6): The original version of this post added to the Wired quote that Editas was founded by Doudna, when in fact she was one of five cofounders, including Feng Zhang, George Church, J. Keith Joung, and David Liu. The Scientist regrets the error.