US Patent Office declares ‘interference’ between patents from Doudna and Zhang

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office have officially waded into the on-going dispute over CRISPR. An administrative judge has declared an “interference” between Jennifer Doudna’s pending patent application, and a dozen of Feng Zhang’s patents already issued.

The history of CRISPR patents is a complex battleground dominated by technicalities, and has become synonymous with the debate around who invented CRISPR in the first place. A panel of three patent judges will now decide who has the patent rights to CRISPR-Cas9 editing in animal cells. Their decision is likely to focus, among other concerns, on the earliest date that either Doudna or Zhang can prove that they used the CRISPR technique.

The declaration of interference lists Doudna as the “senior party” and Zhang as “junior”, which according to Jacob S. Sherkow, associate professor at the Innovation Center for Law and Technology, New York Law School, suggests that the administrative judge agrees that Doudna is the first inventor. “This means that the burden of proof rests on Zhang, much like how, in a criminal trial, the government—not a criminal defendant—must prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt,” explains Sherkow in MIT Technology Review.

If Douda is proven as the inventor, the interference proceeding may well lead to Zhang being stripped of his existing patents. But given the twists and turns in the story so far, no one is willing to call the final outcome just yet. 

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