The US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) has decided to grant two new CRISPR patents to the University of California, Berkeley.
On June 12, the USPTO granted Berkeley a patent on using CRISPR/Cas9 to edit single-stranded RNA. According to a STAT news report, a second patent related to the use of CRISPR to edit genetic material that is specifically 10-15 base-pairs long will also be awarded to Berkeley this week.
While this latest decision seems a blow to the Broad Institute in Massachusetts – with which UC Berkeley has been engaged in intense litigation over who owns the legal rights to CRISPR – a spokesperson from the Broad suggested that the awarded patents 'are extremely narrow and would have little or no effect on the CRISPR field'.
CRISPR is a revolutionary approach to genome editing that allows targeted changes to be made to genetic material through the use of a bacterial enzyme called Cas9. Both institutions have previously been awarded competing patents to the technology, creating confusion as to who had the right to charge fees for its use (see BioNews 948).
Several other commentators have also suggested that the decision may not be as definitive as it appears. Jacob Sherkow, an associate professor from the New York Law School, said he expected the second patent, in particular, to have 'pretty minimal' commercial value, while former molecular biologist and biotech patent lawyer Dr Kevin Noonan said 'I think [UC Berkeley is] just happy to get a patent'.
And Berkeley is still not without competition: in recent years the USPTO has issued more than 60 CRISPR-related patents to at least 18 applicant organisations, while the European Patent Office has issued more than 20 such patents to around ten applicants.
Given the ongoing complexities of the case, whether these latest patents awarded to Berkeley will clarify or cloud an already murky legal situation remains to be seen.