The firm, a subsidiary of pharmaceutical giant Merck KGaA, said the EPO has issued a 'Notice of Intention to Grant' a broad patent for the company's CRISPR technology.
'This is a significant and exciting decision by the EPO. This patent provides protection for our CRISPR technology, which will give scientists the ability to advance treatment options for the toughest medical challenges we face today,' said Udit Batra, MilliporeSigma's CEO.
Filed earlier this year, the patent application centres on the firm's 'proxy-CRISPR' technology, which it claims offers greater efficiency, flexibility and accuracy over the original CRISPR technique, allowing the cutting of 'previously unreachable cell locations'.
The EPO's notice to MilliporeSigma was issued five months after a similar notice was granted to the University of California, the University of Vienna and Dr Emmanuelle Charpentier of the Max-Planck Institute in Berlin (see BioNews 895).
Overall control of the patents remains hotly contested, with legal action ongoing in the United States (see BioNews 911). However, unlike in the US, where the dispute is between just two groups (see BioNews 889), it is believed that the European market will produce a more diverse range of players.
According to patent attorney Catherine Coombes, there is unlikely to be a 'winner takes all' situation in the European intellectual property (IP) market.
She explained to Science: 'I find it quite fascinating that most people seem to think the patent disputes are between two groups when it's far more complicated than that. In Europe, it's quite possible for all six of the early players to have substantially overlapping rights.'
On Twitter, patent specialist Professor Jacob Sherkow at the Innovation Centre for Law and Technology, New York Law School, said that the European IP market had become 'a LOT more complicated'.
MilliporeSigma's patent, he pointed out, 'closely matched' the IP currently disputed in the United States. The only difference was that MilliporeSigma filed its patent six days before US researchers.
'I'm not sure how this gets resolved. The European patent landscape is now a sight to behold,' Professor Sherkow said.