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Patent Board Rules for Broad Inst. in Crispr Case

Crispr graphic

(LJNovaScotia, Pixabay)

1 Mar. 2022. A U.S. patent appeals board ruled that the Broad Institute at Harvard and MIT is the discoverer of Crispr gene editing techniques in animal cells. A decision by the Patent Trial and Appeal Board in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office says claims by University of California at Berkeley and University of Vienna, where researchers also made early Crispr discoveries, did not “provide sufficient, persuasive evidence” that Broad Institute inappropriately benefited from their work, called patent interference.

Crispr — 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 patent appeals board decision is the latest step in a long-running dispute between Broad Institute, a genetics research center affiliated with Harvard University and MIT, and University of California in Berkeley with University of Vienna. Jennifer Doudna at Berkeley and Emmanuelle Charpentier, formerly at University of Vienna and now at Max Planck Institute for Infection Biology in Berlin, are credited with discovering the basic Crispr technique in 2012, for which they shared the 2020 Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

“Solve today’s real-world problems”

The dispute, and an earlier case also found in favor of Broad Institute, centers on application of Crispr to gene editing in cells with a nucleus called eukaryotes, found in more complex plants and animals. Broad says its labs developed techniques for using Crispr in eukaryotes separately from those used by Doudna and Charpentier, who experimented with prokaryotes, organisms without a cell nucleus, such as bacteria and other single-cell microorganisms. As reported by Science & Enterprise in Sept. 2018, a U.S. appeals court backed the Broad Institute’s original argument, and yesterday USPTO’s appeals board again sided with Broad Institute against renewed and similar claims by UC-Berkeley and Vienna.

While Broad Institute won its case with the patent appeals board, its comments on the case yesterday appear to call for a truce with UC-Berkeley and Vienna rather than continued fighting. “A complex patent and licensing landscape threatens innovation,” says the statement, “The best thing, for the entire field, is for the parties to reach a resolution and for the field to focus on using Crispr technology to solve today’s real-world problems.” The institute says it “has pressed for a joint licensing strategy, or patent pools, for more than eight years … with the hope of ensuring open, equitable, and streamlined access to these transformative tools.”

A UC-Berkeley statement says the university is “disappointed” by the appeals board decision and believes the board “made a number of errors.” The statement also notes UC-Berkeley and Vienna “has more than 40 issued U.S. patents that were not involved in this interference and that cover various guide formats of Crispr-Cas9 genome editing systems with applications in all environments, including eukaryotic cells.” The university adds it has patents for Crispr-Cas9 in 30 other countries.

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