WASHINGTON — The Harvard University-affiliated Broad Institute can keep patents on the breakthrough gene-editing technology CRISPR, an appeals court said, rejecting arguments that its work was covered by patents sought by the University of California, Berkeley.
The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office was correct to say that Broad’s inventions were different from what was covered by Berkeley’s applications, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in Washington ruled.
The dispute is over who will get the financial and reputational credit for a gene-editing technique that’s already revolutionizing the world of genetics. CRISPR, or Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats, allows scientists to target parts of a gene and cut them out like a pair of molecular scissors.
CRISPR is a naturally occurring enzyme used by bacteria to rid itself of viruses and was discovered decades ago. The specific CRISPR-Cas9 protein at the heart of the legal dispute is seen as a simple, relatively easy way to cut the gene, though researchers are also considering other CRISPR proteins.
Scientists with UC Berkeley and the University of Vienna led by Jennifer Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier were first to find ways to guide those CRISPR-Cas9 molecular scissors to targeted locations on the genome and say their work could be used for any living thing. They filed their patent application in 2012 and have called it “the discovery of the century.”
The Broad Institute in Massachusetts, set up by groups including Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard to experiment with the human genome, said the UC Berkeley team showed only how the technology would work in a test tube.
They said their research team proved that CRISPR-Cas9 could work in plants and animals, including humans.
Broad filed its own applications and paid extra to get them reviewed more quickly by the patent office, while UC Berkeley’s applications remain before the agency for strategic reasons. UC Berkeley sought to have the Broad patents canceled, saying its applications covered the use of CRISPR-Cas9 in animals.
The patent office disagreed, saying both groups would be entitled to patents because what they covered fell in different areas. The Federal Circuit said the agency’s decision was based on “substantial evidence.”