The CRISPR patent fight pits Broad against Berkeley, with three biotechs in the middle

Broad Institute's Feng Zhang

The ongoing dispute over who owns the rights to a potentially revolutionary gene editing technology is finally headed to court, as the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office prepares to weigh in on a dispute with major implications for biotech.

At stake is whether Feng Zhang, a professor at the Broad Institute and MIT, came up with using CRISPR-Cas9 technology to edit genetic code before the team of Jennifer Doudna at UC Berkeley and Emmanuelle Charpentier of Umeå University in Sweden. Doudna filed a CRISPR patent 6 months before Zhang did, but Broad and MIT contend that Zhang's application covers the actual editing of DNA in animals while Doudna's dealt solely with chopping up strands in test tubes, Stat reports.

Starting Thursday, the USPTO will hold a conference call with a panel of judges to determine which Broad and UC claims will be admissible in court, according to Science, beginning a process that could stretch out for months as the two sides argue over who owns what.

UC Berkeley's Jennifer Doudna

In the middle of the dispute are three biotech companies: Editas Medicine ($EDIT), CRISPR Therapeutics and Intellia Therapeutics. Editas, which raised $94.4 million in an IPO earlier this year, has an exclusive license to Zhang's intellectual property, while CRISPR is working with Charpentier, and Intellia was co-founded by Doudna. Each is at work on gene editing projects for rare diseases, and the outcome of the patent dispute could force the losing camps to pay up.

In documents filed with the USPTO earlier this month, Broad's lawyers argued that their patents cover a wider array of CRISPR applications than Berkeley's, adding that their rivals don't adequately describe how to use the technology, according to Science. For its part, Berkeley is claiming that Zhang misrepresented his discoveries in Broad's patent applications, purporting to use technology he didn't yet possess.

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