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MIT student claims CRISPR patent not earned

22 August 2016
Appeared in BioNews 865

A former MIT visiting student who worked in the Zhang lab for nine months in 2011 has claimed that patents over the CRISPR genome-editing technology held by Professor Feng Zhang and the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard were 'mis-patented'.

In an email sent in February 2015 that appears to be a job application addressed to Professor Jennifer Doudna, who is involved in a challenge to the Broad patents (see BioNews 802), Dr Shuailiang Lin claims that Professor Zhang's team had misled the patent office.

'Based on the careful inspection of the Patent Application Information Retrieval of Broad's patent files, I found Feng is not only unfair to me but also to the science history', the email read. 'The 15-page declaration of his and Le Cong's luciferase data is mis- and overstated to change the examiner's decision, which seems to be a joke'.

The Broad Institute was awarded multiple patents over the CRISPR genome-editing technology in April 2014 based on a series of DNA-editing in eukaryotic cells conducted by Professor Feng Zhang and his team. The University of California, Berkeley has challenged the decision on the basis that their biochemist, Professor Doudna and her team were the first to have succeeded in test tube DNA-editing – and that they had filed similar patents applications several months prior to the Board Institute's applications. The US Patent and Trademark Office declared an interference proceeding to settle the dispute in January 2016 (see BioNews 835).

Dr Lin, currently a postdoctoral researcher at the University of California, San Francisco, also claims that Professor Zhang 'quickly jumped to the project' after seeing Professor Doudna's research results and that his lab did not succeed in their attempts at CRISPR genome editing during his time at the lab in 2011, something which Dr Lin claimed he could document in his lab notebooks, emails and pictures. 

He also offered to assist Professor Doudna or 'whoever is interested to clear the truth' by offering 'more details and records'. 'I will try to defend the truth', he wrote in the email.

The Board Institute issued a statement denying claims made in Dr Lin's email, saying that there is abundant evidence to show that his claims are false, including an email exchange between Professor Zhang and Dr Lin where Professor Zhang was overseeing and guiding Dr Lin in his genome-editing experiments. Dr Lin also made an earlier contradicting statement in a legal document.

The Board Institute also points out that UC Berkeley did not include any evidence to support Dr Lin's claims in his email, which was disclosed as part of UC Berkeley's filings to the dispute made public by the USPO.

'Contrary to the visiting student's own current claim that there was no invention prior to [Professor Doudna's paper in 2012], the individual has previously asserted - in legal documents - that he had made contributions to an invention prior to June 2012. This is inconsistent with his current claim,' the Board Institute said in a statement.

The MIT Technology Review reports that Dr Lin did not respond to repeated attempts to contact him.

Broad Institute Refutes Claims in Leaked Email Suggesting CRISPR Patent Malfeasance
GenomeWeb |  18 August 2016
In CRISPR Fight, Co-Inventor Says Broad Institute Misled Patent Office
MIT Technology Review |  17 August 2016
Lies, damn lies, and CRISPR: the legal battle escalates
STAT |  17 August 2016
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