Tuesday, April 07, 2015

who owns CRISPR?


thescientist |  On April 15, 2014, the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) awarded the first patent for use the CRISPR/Cas system to edit eukaryotic genomes to Feng Zhang of the Broad Institute and MIT. Originally a bacterial or archaeal defense system that uses viral DNA inserted into the genome (CRISPR) as a guide to cut the genomic material of invading viruses with a CRISPR-associated enzyme (Cas), researchers have found many ways to turn the system into a potent and quick way to edit specific genetic sequences. Although there are a handful of other CRISPR-related patents, covering everything from the system’s use in yogurt production to a potential treatment for Huntington’s disease, Zhang’s patent was the first to be granted that covers the technology itself as a platform for a wide array of applications.

However, a patent application filed by Jennifer Doudna of the University of California, Berkeley, and Emmanuelle Charpentier, currently at the Helmholtz Center for Infection Research in Germany, predates Zhang’s by seven months. Zhang’s was most likely granted first because he applied for a fast-track patent, which awarded his intellectual property (IP) six months after he applied. “I think without Zhang fast-tracking his application, the PTO would have flagged it for being in conflict with Doudna’s earlier application,” Jacob Sherkow of the New York Law School wrote in an e-mail to The Scientist. Had his application not been expedited, “we may have been living in a world where there were no issued CRISPR patents” until 2017, he added. The Doudna/Charpentier patent application, assigned to the University of California and the University of Vienna, claims much of the same technology as the Zhang patent, and could be read to cover genome-editing either solely in prokaryotes or in both prokaryotes and eukaryotes. “It’s hard to reconcile 100 percent of both of them,” said Sherkow.