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University of California win CRISPR patent battle in Europe

3 April 2017
Appeared in BioNews 895

The European Patent Office (EPO) has declared that it intends to grant a broad patent for the use of CRISPR technologies to the University of California, the University of Vienna and Dr Emmanuelle Charpentier of the Max-Planck Institute in Berlin.

The intellectual property has been hotly disputed between two groups, one led by the University of California and the other by the Broad Institute in Massachusetts. The Broad group – who prevailed in the recent US patent dispute (see BioNews 889) – filed several Third Party Observations (TPOs) objecting to the grant, but the EPO did not agree with their arguments. The Broad group now have nine months to file any further objections before the patent is issued.

'We're very pleased with the decision by the European Patent Office recognising the broad applicability of our foundational IP, and we look forward to pursuing additional cases to grant in other jurisdictions globally,' said Rodger Novak, CEO of CRISPR Therapeutics, part of the University of California group.

The University of California group's claim is founded on the work of Professor Jennifer Doudna, Dr Emmanuelle Charpentier and their team at UC Berkeley, who were first to modify the CRISPR system found naturally in bacteria and used it to cut DNA in a test tube.

The opposing group comprises the Broad Institute, Harvard University, MIT, Wageningen University, the University of Iowa, and the University of Tokyo. Their claim is based around the work of Professor Feng Zhang and colleagues, who were first to get the technology working in the more complex eukaryotic cells found in plants, animals and humans.

The US Patents and Trademarks Office (USPTO) previously granted 12 patents for the use of CRISPR in eukaryotic cells to the Broad Institute, but Europe and the US have different ways of deciding who to award a patent to. Europe gives priority to the first party to file a patent claim, whereas until recently, the US system used a first party to invent policy, under which the US patent dispute was heard.

Eric Rhodes, CEO of ERS Genomics (part of the UC group), said: 'I hope this decision by the EPO provides even more clarity for those looking to utilise the technology. At ERS, we are hopeful that we can expect similar outcomes throughout the roughly 80 countries that use a first-to-file system like Europe.'

The Broad Institute stresses that the EPO process 'may involve adjusting patent claims after a patent has been issued, in response to oppositions… adjustments may be required in this case'.

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