UC Berkeley granted 2 CRISPR gene editing patents amid years-long ownership battle with Broad Institute

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office plans to grant the UC Berkeley two patents related to CRISPR gene editing — a significant achievement for the university, which has been in a years-long patent battle with Boston-based Broad Institute over whose researchers own the technology, STAT reports.

Here are four things to know about the patents and the surrounding controversy:

1. CRISPR, which stands for Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats, is a gene-editing technology that enables scientists to modify an organism's DNA. Many scientists consider the CRISPR-Cas9 system — which creates modified RNA segments to exploit select enzymes — to be one of the most precise and least expensive gene-editing techniques in use.

2. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office granted University of California its first CRISPR patent June 12, which covers the use of CRISPR-Cas9 to edit single-stranded RNA. The second patent, which the office plans to grant the university June 19, is more significant and foundational, according to STAT, covering the use of CRISPR-Cas9 for editing genome regions of 10 to 15 nucleotides long.

The office granted the patents to a team of UC Berkeley researchers including biochemist Jennifer Doudna, PhD, who some consider to be the creator of CRISPR, according to Futurism. Dr. Doudna's research team published what many researchers cite as the first academic paper on CRISPR-Cas9 in 2012.

3. In February 2017, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office granted a team of Broad Institute researchers a patent for the use of CRISPR-Cas9 to modify DNA in mammals, based on research by molecular biologist Feng Zhang, PhD, which used the CRISPR-Cas9 technology to edit plant, animal and human cells.

UC Berkeley had contested the office's decision, arguing Dr. Doudna's 2012 study paved the way for Dr. Zhang's work editing mammalian DNA using CRISPR. However, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office determined Dr. Zhang's discovery was not the "obvious" extension of Dr. Doudna's, and therefore awarded the patent on editing mammalian DNA to the Broad Institute, according to Gizmodo. Dr. Doudna's team is currently appealing the decision.

4. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office had issued 60 CRISPR-related patents to nearly 20 different organizations as of April, according to Futurism.

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