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Patents The Almighty Buck The Courts Science Technology

Patent Office Rules CRISPR Patents, Potentially Worth Billions, Belong To Broad Institute (theverge.com) 70

According to a ruling by judges at the United States Patent and Trademark Office, the disputed patents on the gene-editing tool CRISPR belong to the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard. "The ruling comes a little over two months after a high-profile court hearing, during which MIT and University of California, Berkeley heatedly argued about who should own CRISPR," The Verge reports. From their report: STAT News reported that the decision was one sentence long. The three judges decided that the Broad patents are different enough from the ones the University of California applied for that the Broad patents stand. The patent ruling suggests that the work done by Jennifer Doudna of the University of California and her colleagues on CRISPR wasn't so groundbreaking as to make any other advance obvious. But that legal opinion isn't how the science world views her work, STAT points out: "Doudna and her chief collaborator, Emmanuelle Charpentier, won the $3 million Breakthrough Prize in the life sciences in 2015, the $500,000 Gruber Genetics Prize in 2015, and the $450,000 Japan Prize in 2017," the outlet notes.
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Patent Office Rules CRISPR Patents, Potentially Worth Billions, Belong To Broad Institute

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  • If not then the patents should be voided. Otherwise the patent system gets trolled into garbage disrepute.

    • by jonwil ( 467024 )

      In this case the product is the tool that is used to edit genes.

    • by Geoffrey.landis ( 926948 ) on Wednesday February 15, 2017 @07:01PM (#53876663) Homepage

      "Re:Is there a product these patents protect?"
      In (overly broad) summary, Jennifer Doudna and collaborators showed that CRISPR could cut DNA at targeted sites. Zhang and collaborators used that targeting capability to edit DNA. Editing DNA is the product you asked about (in patent terminology, a method of doing something is patentable). That product use uses the cutting that Dudna demonstrated.

      A quick (and still overly broad) analysis is that Dudna et al discovered the science, and Zhang et al reduced it to practice. However, reducing it to practice only gets you a patent if it's not obvious.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by shaitand ( 626655 )
        Doesn't sound like a product or invention to me, sounds like a discovery of natural phenomenon and shouldn't be covered by patent but rather immediately rendered into the global public domain for free use by all.
        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward

          It's a process, which can lead to products. An easier to understand example is Revere Ware pots and pans. Earlier versions of them are stamped "process patent" because the pots and pans themselves were not what was patented. Instead, they patented the *process* of bonding the copper to the bottom of the pan, which is less obvious than you might think.

          If you want to argue against patents of any kind, OK; but the notion of patenting a process which leads to products is pretty well established under the umb

        • by rtb61 ( 674572 )

          Well, by the time they can use that patent in any meaningful way beyond simply experimentation it will have expired. So how much is it worth beyond experimentation, not much really. I smell another bankster pump and dump though, the gene bomb, to follow up the dot bomb collapse (only fools believe that lame scam any more).

          • "Well, by the time they can use that patent in any meaningful way beyond simply experimentation it will have expired. "

            By the time it expires everything meaningful that can be done with the base technology will be locked behind reams of patents like most work that can be done with DNA. With $500-1000, a bunch of DIY equipment, 3-6months worth of self-study, you can set up a mini lab and do all sorts of experimentation... at least you could if everything you need weren't locked up in patents that turn 15 cen
        • CRISPR (the invention) is a synthetic implementation of the CRISPR/Cas system immune system.

          It is a method of customizing where genes are cut. Other methods are used to insert or modify DNA.

          It is a tool, albeit a much better one than existed before. Thus, CRISPR could be best compared to replacing a hacksaw with a laser cutter. The general public has no need of such a tool, but we will most likely buy many things which this tool produces.

          • "Thus, CRISPR could be best compared to replacing a hacksaw with a laser cutter. The general public has no need of such a tool"

            On the contrary, like a laser cutter the general public does have much use for the tool. Unlike laser cutters the fundamental tools are being locked behind non-disclosure agreements and patents artificially inflating the price to play dramatically. If the general public had no use for such tools makers clubs, diy bio groups, etc wouldn't exist at all. As it stands diy bio groups are
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        If by "discovered the science", you meant "developed the protocol for doing genome engineering (in prokaryotes) that could then be immediately applied to eukaryotes by Zhang after he watched Doudna's presentation on the topic", then sure.

    • by interkin3tic ( 1469267 ) on Wednesday February 15, 2017 @10:13PM (#53877685)
      There are about a dozen companies using licenses from one or the other to develop products. Including Editas which was oddly founded by Doudna of UC Berkley AND Zhang of the Broad institute [statnews.com]

      Not sure there's any CRISPR products for sale yet because research doesn't move as fast as the legal system does, but it's definitely not patent trolling. Almost every molecular biology lab is starting to use crispr in some capacity, So there should be applications coming out eventually. [addgene.org]

      There are supposedly some edited dogs in china I guess? [telegraph.co.uk]
    • Well, yeah - pretty much every refrigerator on the market nowadays has a CRISPR drawer.

  • Oh good (Score:5, Insightful)

    by The-Ixian ( 168184 ) on Wednesday February 15, 2017 @06:46PM (#53876581)

    So the deep pockets win again.

    Also... WTF? We stand on the shoulders of giants every day while we share and consume information, yet only one entity gets to own the technique derived from all these other people's efforts. And it's no surprise to me that it is an entity which absolutely doesn't need it.

    Seriously, screw these schools who make you pay them to own your ideas... what better business is there?

    It's the same thing with college sports... billions of $$ and all straight into the war chests of these institutions and the player gets to pay for the privilege...

  • Two different things (Score:4, Informative)

    by Geoffrey.landis ( 926948 ) on Wednesday February 15, 2017 @06:54PM (#53876621) Homepage

    "The patent ruling suggests that the work done by Jennifer Doudna of the University of California and her colleagues on CRISPR wasn't so groundbreaking as to make any other advance obvious. But that legal opinion isn't how the science world views her work, STAT points out: "Doudna and her chief collaborator, Emmanuelle Charpentier, won the $3 million Breakthrough Prize in the life sciences in 2015, the $500,000 Gruber Genetics Prize in 2015, and the $450,000 Ja..."

    These are two different things. The patent ruling was only about whether the work by Doudna, Charpentier et al. made the MIT/Harvard work "obvious". The Breakthrough and other prizes didn't care whether the MIT/Harvard work was obvious or not, it was an award for heir work being a breakthrough, whether it led to any applications or not.

    • by coldandcalculating ( 1311907 ) on Wednesday February 15, 2017 @07:18PM (#53876737)
      Important points from the article:

      "It all began in 2012, when UC Berkeley biochemist Jennifer Doudna and others, including Charpentier, published a seminal Science paper on CRISPR. In this paper, Doudna showed that the gene-editing technology can be used to cut DNA in a test tube at targeted sites. Later, Doudna filed a patent application for CRISPR."

      "Then in 2013, in another Science paper, MIT bioengineer Feng Zhang and his team reported developing a CRISPR system that edited genomes in eukaryotic cells — the cells of animals and people. When Zhang filed his own patent application, he applied for the PTO to “fast track” its patent review process. The result was that although UC Berkeley filed first, the PTO actually awarded the patent to the Broad and MIT in April 2014. (The Broad and MIT were later awarded a bunch of other CRISPR patents.) So UC Berkeley asked for a so-called “interference proceeding” — an official reassessment to determine who was the first to invent the gene-editing tool CRISPR-Cas9.

      This is why many in the life science community feel that Doudna/Charpentier got short-changed. This all happened right before the switch to the current "first-to-file" rule in USPTO. Also, many in the life sciences are frustrated at claims that Zhang's application to eukaryotic cells wasn't obvious. Those aforementioned awards were given to D/C precisely because scientists recognized the (obvious) potential of CRISPR/Cas to revolutionize the treatment of human disease. While Zhang's group has done some groundbreaking later work in the CRISPR field, Doudna et al probably deserve the patent. But props to MIT/Zhang for having a better understanding of patent law. That counts for a lot these days.
      • Explain something to me, even with first to invent and Zhang's patent being deemed a non obvious innovation. Doesn't the Berkeley patent then still stand on the more general use of CRISPR to edit DNA period? They were obviously the first to invent that, even though seemingly applying it to DNA from a specific cell is some incredible innovation. So wouldn't you need a patent license from both at this point to use CRISPR?

        • by bongey ( 974911 ) on Wednesday February 15, 2017 @09:35PM (#53877513)
          Zhang doesn't seem to have been the most ethical,one of the co-inventors said it was based off Douda's work. At the same time testimony a pioneer in gene splicing George Church said moving from bacteria to human cell “anything but obvious”.http://www.nature.com/news/titanic-clash-over-crispr-patents-turns-ugly-1.20631

          I would say generally it is rather suspect Zhang "invented" the method just merely 6 months after he seen her lecture. Zhang also filed a fast track patent, it seemed like he was trying to game the patent system.
          • It's also worth noting that Zhang was hardly the only person to be working on this - Church's group published a very similar article in the same issue of Science in 2013, and about a half-dozen groups were reaching similar conclusions at the same time, but they weren't as aggressive about filing patents.

          • Last year Zhang gave a talk where I work. Aside from (to me at least) coming off as very arrogant, he clearly made a huge point to NOT mention Doudna's work at any point during his talk.

            It's been mentioned indirectly above, and I'm sure it took some trial and error before it worked, but I can't possibly see how tweaking a nearly identical system in prokaryotes to work in eurkaryotes isn't obvious to one "skilled in the art". I also find asking for "fast track" approval of the patent to be pretty sleazy sinc

          • It should be pointed out that George church has a huge conflict of interest in making such a statement, as he and Zhang are still affiliated with editas [editasmedicine.com], the company they founded together to capitalize on CRISPR technology. Doudna was part of the company for a time but left after the patent war blew up to found her own company, intellia [intelliatx.com].

            His statement that it is "anything but obvious" to adapt CRISPR to eukaryotic cells from bacteria would be refuted by pretty much any first year molecular biology student
        • by whit3 ( 318913 )
          Yes, there's two different processes patented here. One cuts the gene, and is part of an elaboration that applies the genetic cut to a living cell. So, using CRISPR to make the cut is covered by the Berkeley patent, and using it in the way described by the MIT patent is also covered. To use the MIT procedure, you need a license for the Berkeley procedure as well. So, neither group has 'lost', in the sense that (as far as I can see) both have valid patent protection.
          • So we'll have a two couple gazillionaires, instead of one couple and two universities making a boatload of money instead of one.

            I'm no fan of patents, but within the framework of patent law this seems the optimum outcome for society.

      • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 15, 2017 @08:17PM (#53877057)

        Don't forget that Doudna presented at a conference, to a room that included Zhang, where she described the process of using CRISPR-Cas9 to do genome engineering... where she said the obvious next step was to do this in Eukaryotes... from whence Zhang then went home and did the experiment described by Doudna and claimed to have invented the technology independently.

        There's a reason academics aren't pleased with Zhang's behavior.

      • by epine ( 68316 )

        But props to MIT/Zhang for having a better understanding of patent law. That counts for a lot these days.

        Your implication being that UC Berkeley doesn't see fit to make this caliber of legal advice available to faculty self-evidently working in fields with billions of dollars at stake?

        If Berkeley fell short on sound legal acumen with the Holy Grail of the Biological Revolution inches away from the tips of their greedy little fingers, god help man with garage.

        • The state of law has become such that it is now merely a tool wielded at the whim of the powerful. God help us all. Someone else said that the coming war will not be Civil for we are no longer civilized.
    • by dfghjk ( 711126 )

      Furthermore Doudnav and Charpentier are unlikely to have written the patents so the "work" the judges consider is not theirs, they are merely the inventors. You can invent anything but you are entitled to only what the patent says you are.

      The statement was written by a person ignorant of the issues.

  • Is this something to do with getting more women into science?

    • by movdqa ( 1122661 )
      "The Eli and Edythe L. Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard (/brod/), often referred to as the Broad Institute, is a biomedical and genomic research center located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States. The institute is independently governed and supported as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit research organization under the name Broad Institute Inc.,[1][2] and is partners with Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvard University, and the five Harvard teaching hospitals." Rather interesting place. You've got Ha
  • Well, IMHO... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 15, 2017 @07:24PM (#53876759)

    Both institutions may have received federal monies to support the research leading to CRISPR.
    If they did, then the 'ownership' should be public - as in: they receive nothing more than intellectual kudos,
    No Patents, no copyrights, no kickbacks.
    Enough of the institutional power plays.
    What about the scientists that did it? What do they get, besides a paycheck.....
    Just so much is not right in this...

    • Generally, this is the first argument I make with universities patenting inventions developed while grant funded (grants almost always include a clause for government ownership of IP, and it is almost always ignored).

      However, Broad is largely privately funded. While they do get a lot of government money, they also have received over $700 Million in donations. It's that private money that allowed this (the expedited, well written patent filing) to happen.

      We all may grind our teeth at granting a valuable pa

  • A better question. (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Why should CRISPR be eligible for patent protection at all?

  • Changed under Bush (Score:4, Insightful)

    by transami ( 202700 ) on Wednesday February 15, 2017 @09:14PM (#53877373) Homepage

    The U.S. Patent system has become a travesty. Rulings like this make me sick to my stomach. "Fast track" should never have passed legal muster.

    Moreover, it bothers me that the government can take someone's physical property to build a road or even a mall, but they don't apply eminent domain to life saving intellectual property.

    • by Hodr ( 219920 )

      But with eminent domain they paid you fair value (or their idea thereof), which can be determined because people buy and sell comparable property all the time. They also have to have appropriated funds for a specific task that requires purchasing that property. If you have a patent, it is supposed to be unique, so it would be hard for the government to accurately set a price and even if they could, assuming the technology / medicine/ whatever is as important as you believe it to be, the cost would be astron

    • Under Obama.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    There are already CRISPR alternatives that are just as good or better -- I am working on a couple. Also, I am not sure how they can patent something that bacteria invented. I mean, what does Streptococcus Pyogenes get out it? Nothing. Maybe some antibiotics.

  • CRISPR is a huge leap in genetic science, and could potentially eliminate all genetic diseases with enough widespread research. This patent is adding another barrier to the implementation of a treatment that could save millions upon millions of lives and save many many more from horrible suffering. If karma has a rock bottom, I think they just found it.

"Roman Polanski makes his own blood. He's smart -- that's why his movies work." -- A brilliant director at "Frank's Place"