Finally a Win for UC Berkeley: Two CRISPR Patents Awarded

Biochemist Jennifer Doudna of the University of California (Photo: James Duncan Davidson/TED)

Before CRISPR can revolutionise our world, the gene-editing technology needs to get out of the courtroom. 

Multiple million-dollar companies are racing to apply CRISPR for use as human therapeutics, which leaves judges, patent offices, and prize juries clashing over who did what when, and how important their contribution was or is. 

We’re all aware of the patent battle that’s been going on between UC Berkeley and the Broad Institute since early 2015, which primarily concerns the use of the CRISPR-Cas system in eukaryotic cells. 

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has decided to grant not just one, but two new CRISPR patents to UC Berkeley, home of pioneer Jennifer Doudna, who many consider the creator of the technology. 

On June 12, Berkeley was granted a patent on using CRISPR/Cas9 to edit single-stranded RNA. And yesterday, on June 19, Berkeley was granted a second patent, covering the use of CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing with formats that will be particularly useful in developing human therapeutics and improvements in food security.

These two patents add to the two already held by UC Berkeley in Europe through the European Patent Office, which were awarded last year.

 

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“Six years ago, the Doudna-Charpentier team was the first to file a patent application and publish on the necessary and sufficient components that enable CRISPR-Cas9 to be employed in all environments, including plant and animal cells,” said Edward Penhoet, special advisor to the UC Berkeley chancellor and special assistant to the University of California president. “Their remarkable research has only accelerated since then, creating new jobs and opening up new possibilities to improve life.”

While this latest decision seems a blow to the Broad Institute, a Broad spokesperson suggested that that the awarded patents “are extremely narrow and would have little or no effect on the CRISPR field,” according to STAT.

There have also been others commenting on the decision, including Jacob Sherkow, who’s an associate professor from the New York Law School. He said that he expected the second patent, in particular, to have “pretty minimal commercial value”. While former molecular biologist and biotech patent lawyer, Dr. Kevin Noonan have reportedly said he thinks UC Berkley “is just happy to get a patent”. 

So who is it that deserves credit for turning a bacterial immune system into a revolutionary gene editing tool? Even though the patent battle has been going on for years, it seems like it’s only just begun.