Harvard-MIT Institute Wins Patent Battle for Gene-Editing Tech

After over a year of disputes, the Broad Institute—a genetics research center affiliated with Harvard and MIT—won the right to keep its patent for CRISPR, a groundbreaking gene-editing technology, in a ruling Wednesday.

The Broad Institute was embroiled in a legal battle for over a year against the University of California, Berkeley in US Patent Trial Court. For months, scientists at UC Berkeley claimed that they invented the CRISPR technology first.

In a press release, the Broad Institute maintained that its patent and that of UC Berkeley were entirely different. According to the Broad Institute, UC Berkeley applied for CRISPR patents not related to eukaryotic—including human—cells while Broad’s patents did specify eukaryotic cell-editing methods.

“We agree with the decision by the patent office, which confirms that the patents and applications of Broad Institute and UC Berkeley are about different subjects and do not interfere with each other,” the press release reads.

Three judges presided over the case and handed down their ruling Wednesday, agreeing with the Broad Institute’s claim.

“Based on our determination that the preponderance of the evidence shows that there is no interference-in-fact between the parties’ claims, we need not decide the other pending motions,” the judges wrote. “A determination of no interference-in-fact deprives UC of standing to raise other challenges against Broad’s claims in this proceeding.”

Fallout from the decision was rapid. According to Reuters, Intellia Therapeutics Inc, which is associated in a licensing deal with UC Berkeley, saw its shares fall by 9 percent on Wednesday. In a boon for Editas Medicine Inc, a biotechnology firm associated with the Broad Institute, shares rose by 29 percent on Wednesday.

The Broad Institute was awarded its first CRISPR patent in 2014 despite UC Berkeley applying for their own patent in 2012.

The patent battle is not the first controversy to involve the Broad Institute recently. Last year, the founding director of the Broad Institute came under fire after publishing an article which, according to critics, understated the contributions of women in developing a biotechnology and failed to disclose the Institute’s involvement in the CRISPR court battle.

CRISPR gets its name from sequences of bacterial DNA that aid in recognizing foreign viral DNA sequences and has the potential to delete or edit genetic material. Academics have asserted that the technology has the potential to correct disorders like Huntington’s disease and cystic fibrosis. CRISPR has also sparked ethical debates about the future role of gene editing.

—Staff writer Joshua J. Florence can be reached at joshua.florence@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @JoshuaFlorence1.

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