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UC-Berkeley to Get New Crispr Patent

U.S. Patent and Trademark Office

U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (A. Kotok)

11 Feb. 2019. University of California in Berkeley will soon receive a new patent for its development of the genome editing process known as Crispr, the latest round in a years-long dispute. The university announced on Friday that the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office granted a notice of allowance for its patent application covering the genome-editing technique with the Cas9 enzyme, the technique used most frequently for genome editing.

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 today 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 new patent will cover more applications of Crispr-Cas9 than previous versions. The patent’s language offers a detailed list of Crispr uses in different types of cells, and with living cells inside organisms and those existing in lab cultures. One claim presents a list of applicable organisms covered by the patent ranging from archaeal cells without a cell nucleus through cells in various plant and animal species, up to humans. Another claim covers different types of edits carried out by Crispr-Cas9, again with variations inside and outside living organisms, and with various specified organisms.

The inventors listed on the new patent include the pioneering researchers Jennifer Doudna at UC-Berkeley and Emmanuelle Charpentier now at Umea University in Sweden, the senior authors on the original paper published in 2012, along with co-authors Martin Jinek at UC-Berkeley and Krzystof Chylinski at University of Vienna. The university — technically the University of California system — received 2 other patents for Crispr-Cas9 as well.

However, UC-Berkeley was not alone in studying Crispr. A team at the Broad Institute, a medical research center affiliated with Harvard University and MIT, led by geneticist Feng Zhang developing Crispr implementations they claimed were independent of work at UC-Berkeley. Broad Institute 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 February 2017, the Patent Trials and Appeal Board at USPTO 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, ruling in effect that Broad Institute and University of California had distinct technologies, both eligible for patents. In September 2018,  a U.S. appeals court affirmed that ruling, supporting the Broad Institute’s claims it invented a separate Crispr technology from UC-Berkeley.

Eldora Ellison, an outside counsel to UC-Berkeley leading the Crispr legal team says in a university statement that “the issued patent will encompass the use of Crispr-Cas9 technology in any cellular or non-cellular environment.” Ellison adds, “We expect to see continued momentum in the expansion of UC’s Crispr patent portfolio in the coming months.” As reported by Science & Enterprise since 2013, momentum for Crispr is considerable, leading to spin-off enterprises founded by researchers and considerable commercial licensing.

A Broad Institute spokesperson tells the Reuters news service that the new patent, “does not affect the Crispr patent estate held by Broad, MIT, and Harvard in any way.” Much of the later work on Crispr at Broad Institute uses editing enzymes other than Cas9.

notice of allowance is considered the last step before granting a patent, indicating the USPTO fully reviewed the application and is ready for final issuance. Lyndra is the exclusive licensee of the technology. The university expects the patent to be issued in the next 6 to 9 weeks.

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