The CRISPR decision and the future of biotech patents

An image of a DNA structure modelOn Wednesday, the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) upheld a series of patents on gene editing technology by the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard. The patents have been awarded for a DNA altering technique called CRISPR.

In 2012, University of California, Berkeley applied for a patent for the “reprogrammed’ protein known as CRISPR-Cas9 and used it to cut strands of isolated DNA. Later, researchers at the Broad Institute found that this method also worked in human cells and filed a patent for this technology in October 2013.

The case has been controversial, not least due to the overwhelming potential of the technology, because Berkeley argued that Broad’s patent cannot be granted as it is an obvious use of the technology. Furthermore, Berkeley had started their research on this technology and filed a patent before Broad. Their patent is still pending causing a crossover in their patent applications.

However, the judges determined that this was not the case and that Broad’s invention is distinct from Berkeley’s as it is extending CRISPR to eukaryotic cells (cells in mice and humans) which is not an obvious use of that technology. Berkeley have agreed with the conclusion however have said that they will appeal to the court.

CRISPR has opened many doors in industries such agriculture and medicine; both Monsanto and Dupont have licensed CRISPR technology for uses in agriculture. Editas Medicine Inc has also licensed Broad’s technology and have seen a 29 per cent increase in shares since the decision on Wednesday.

The recognition of distinction between the two technologies in the dispute could potentially mean that previously protected technology as well as technology expected to become protected could be used for new uses and different purposes.

The CRISPR technology can inspire cross innovation across multiple markets to create billion dollar markets whether that’s editing genes in agriculture to create crops with high nutritional value or whether it is to treat disorders such as cancer.

This development may also inspire other universities and biotechnology companies to further develop existing patents for new uses opening a range of lucrative licensing opportunities to a variety of markets.

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