18 May 2015
ByAppeared in BioNews 802
Patents for the gene-editing technology, CRISPR/Cas9, are the subject of a dispute between scientists at the University of California (UC), Berkeley and the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, Massachusetts, USA.
Patent rights over the potentially highly commercially valuable gene-editing technology were awarded to Professor Feng Zhang at the Broad Institute in April 2014, giving him and his research centre commercial control over CRISPR/Cas9.
However, last month, a legal team representing UC Board of Regents' asked the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) to reconsider ten patents issued to the Broad Institute.
The UC Board of Regents submitted that patent rights should have been granted to a team led by UC Berkeley's Jennifer Doudna, professor of chemistry and molecular and cell biology, who with French microbiologist, Professor Emmanuelle Charpentier, published a paper in Science in 2012 describing the technique.
Even though Professors Doudna and Charpentier were the first to file a patent claim to the technology, reports the MIT Technology Review, Professor Zhang claimed to be the first to invent the technology, submitting lab notebooks as evidence that his team ought to be awarded the rights over the patent.
If the USPTO accepts the request to reconsider the patent, both UC Berkeley and MIT will be asked to submit evidence about their involvement in inventing the patent.
CRISPR/Cas9 is the most precise method of gene-editing available to scientists and the rights to its patents are thought to be worth billions of dollars. However, its future application in humans is a subject of debate (see BioNews 801)
Last month, Chinese scientists controversially published findings confirming that they have begun experiments using the technique on human embryos, for the first time, attempting to eliminate the gene for beta-thalassaemia from developing embryos (reported in BioNews 779).