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UC-Berkeley Gains U.S. Crispr-Cas9 Patent

Editing DNA

(LaCasadeGoethe, Pixabay)

19 June 2018. University of California received a patent for its genome editing technology known as Crispr, with the most widely used editing enzyme called Cas9. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office issued patent number 10,000,772 to four inventors including geneticists Jennifer Doudna at University of California in Berkeley and Emmanuelle Charpentier now director of the Max Planck Institute for Infection Biology in Braunschweig, Germany, the senior authors on the original paper describing the technique in 2012.

Crispr, short for clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats, is a technique for editing genomes based on bacterial defense mechanisms that use RNA to identify and monitor precise locations in DNA. The actual editing of genomes with Crispr in most cases uses an enzyme known as Crispr-associated protein 9 or Cas9. RNA molecules guide the editing enzymes to specific genes needing repair, making it possible to address root causes of many diseases, but also adjust traits in plant crops by removing or changing specific genes.

The Crispr technology spawned a rush of potential applications, with benefits anticipated for people with inherited diseases or modifying plant genomes to improve crop production. Other researchers working with Crispr, particularly those at the Broad Institute, a medical research center affiliated with MIT and Harvard University and led by geneticist Feng Zhang, developed implementations of Crispr which they claimed were independent of the work by Doudna and Charpentier.

As a result, Broad Institute — legally MIT and Harvard University — filed its own U.S. patent for Crispr, leading to a challenge from University of California that said Broad interfered with its patent claims, meaning Broad took unfair advantage of California’s previous work. In response, Broad pointed out that Zhang’s work with Crispr focuses on eukaryotes, plant and animal cells where genetic material is found in the nucleus. The California research, in contrast, is conducted with prokaryotes, organisms without a cell nucleus, such as bacteria and other single-cell microorganisms. These differences, said Broad, call for different methods and techniques.

As reported by Science & Enterprise in February 2017, the USPTO’s Patent Trials and Appeal Board hearing the case found Broad Institute’s arguments more persuasive, and agreed that Broad’s technology would not have been an obvious derivative of University of California’s discoveries.

University of California decided to pursue a different strategy for its intellectual property, protecting discoveries by Doudna and Charpentier using Crispr with Cas9 enzymes for editing on all cells. That strategy appears to be paying off with winning a European patent later in 2017 and today’s announcement of a U.S. patent. The university notes in a statement that its claims for Crispr-Cas 9 are “not involved in any interference proceeding before the Patent Trial and Appeal Board of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, or any appeal before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.”

For its part, Broad Institute appears to be focusing on a different editing enzyme called cpf1, which it says is simpler, smaller and more precise than Cas9. MIT and Harvard University, Broad’s parent institutions, were awarded a European patent for Crisper-cpf1 genome editing in 2017.

The Crispr-Cas9 patent was awarded the same day as USPTO celebrated its 10 millionth patent award, to an inventor in California for a laser detection and range-finding device.

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