The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office ruled Monday that patents for some CRISPR gene-editing technologies do not in fact belong to the university, the University of Vienna and Emmanuelle Charpentier, collectively referred to in the legal documents as CVC.
The Patent and Trial Appeal Board of the Patent and Trademark Office, or PTAB, found that the Broad Institute at Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology applied CRISPR technologies to eukaryotic, or plant and animal, cells, before researchers from the CVC, leading to this ruling.
“The University of California is disappointed by the PTAB’s decision and believes the PTAB made a number of errors,” stated a press release from UC Berkeley. “CVC is considering various options to challenge this decision.”
CRISPR technologies, which allow scientists to edit DNA sequences, were first developed in 2012 by Jennifer Doudna of UC Berkeley and Charpentier of the University of Vienna. The two then shared the 2020 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for their breakthrough.
While the decision does not cast doubt on that breakthrough, the Broad Institute was able to successfully argue that a 2014 patent for the use of CRISPR in eukaryotic cells was distinct from the earlier invention, according to a press release from the Broad Institute.
In a statement, the Broad Institute referenced the social importance of CRISPR technology.
“Broad believes that all institutions should work together to ensure wide, open access to this transformative technology and will continue to explore how best to make this happen,” the statement said.
The ruling leaves UC Berkeley and its group with more than 40 other patents related to the CRISPR technology, according to campus professor Edward Penhoet, who was involved in the CVC legal team. He added that this technology allows scientists to edit DNA sequences.
The ruling complicates the work of biotech companies that use CRISPR technology to develop gene-editing therapies, Penhoet said. The potentially lucrative technology is being tested to help cure genetic diseases and abnormalities.
Some, however, argue that the technology should not be patented at all, including a member of Doudna’s lab who chose to remain anonymous for fear of retribution.
“Those patents should be in the public domain as they were a result of research done with research funding provided mostly from public agencies. This is especially important for technologies such as CRISPR which have such a great potential to benefit human health and beyond,” the researcher said. “Moving forward, I think we as a society need to rethink how biomedical patenting or licensing needs to work.”