Skip to Content
Biotechnology

The fight over who owns CRISPR is back, and it’s a rematch

USPTO signage
USPTO signageReubenGBrewer, Wikimedia

The dispute over valuable patents to the gene-editing tool CRISPR is back on, and the belligerents are once again the Broad Institute of Cambridge, Massachusetts, and the University of California, reports STAT News.

The dispute: It’s all about money, power, and scientific credit. In short, it’s about who really invented CRISPR gene editing, a simple way to modify the DNA inside cells that’s swept the world and could be the basis for a new generation of gene-therapy treatments.

The sides: In one corner, UC Berkeley, where biochemist Jennifer Doudna was part of a team that in 2012 described a CRISPR editor able to zap DNA in a test tube. In the other, the Broad Institute of MIT /Harvard, a genomics juggernaut whose star scientist, Feng Zhang, was among the first to use CRISPR to edit human DNA.

The news: This week, the US Patent Office opened an “interference” proceeding. That means it’s going to take a bundle of patents and patent applications it thinks cover the same inventions and, following a court-like legal proceeding, potentially shift rights around among the feuding parties.

It’s not the first interference involving CRISPR patents. In a previous round, the Broad Institute prevailed when the patent office ruled that making CRISPR work inside human cells—not only in a test tube—was a distinct and separate invention. That meant Broad’s key patents stayed in place. For the time being.

Now that it's clear that CRISPR in human cells is its own thing, a new challenge begins. The patent office needs to sort out a thicket of competing and conflicting claims and figure out who the invention should belong to.  

According to case documents, it’s up to the Broad Institute to avoid further trouble (and lawyer fees) by initiating settlement agreements with Berkeley. So far the parties haven't been able to reach a truce.

Deep Dive

Biotechnology

These scientists used CRISPR to put an alligator gene into catfish

The resulting fish appear to be more resistant to disease and could improve commercial production—should they ever be approved.

Next up for CRISPR: Gene editing for the masses?

Last year, Verve Therapeutics started the first human trial of a CRISPR treatment that could benefit most people—a signal that gene editing may be ready to go mainstream.

CRISPR for high cholesterol: 10 Breakthrough Technologies 2023

New forms of the gene-editing tool could enable treatments for common diseases.

An ALS patient set a record for communicating via a brain implant: 62 words per minute

Brain interfaces could let paralyzed people speak at almost normal speeds.

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose Wong

Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review

Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.

Thank you for submitting your email!

Explore more newsletters

It looks like something went wrong.

We’re having trouble saving your preferences. Try refreshing this page and updating them one more time. If you continue to get this message, reach out to us at customer-service@technologyreview.com with a list of newsletters you’d like to receive.