Bioethics Blogs

The CRISPR Patent Interference Showdown Is On: How Did We Get Here and What Comes Next?

Jacob S. Sherkow

Without question, this year’s—and potentially, this century’s—biggest biotech story is the rise of CRISPR, arguably the most precise and flexible gene editing technology yet to be created. As others have reported at length, two research teams—Jennifer Doudna’s lab at UC Berkeley, and others, and Feng Zhang’s lab at the Broad Institute and MIT—are engaged in a patent dispute over fundamental aspects of the CRISPR technology. (And to be clear—it’s Doudna’s and Zhang’s attorneys running this show—not the scientists.) On December 21st—after months of waiting—that patent dispute heated up substantially. The primary examiner responsible for Doudna’s patent application, Michelle K. Joike, along with an interference specialist (likely Brandon Fetterolf) issued an Initial Interference Memo, a recommendation that the Patent Trial and Appeals Board (the PTAB) conduct a procedure known as an “interference proceeding” between Doudna’s and Zhang’s patent applications (no PDF currently available). This has the potential to decide who owns the core CRISPR intellectual property, possibly stripping Zhang of his near-dozen patents, and shaking up hundreds of millions dollars of investment in their respective companies. It also may see Doudna and Zhang deposed and cross-examined on the priority and scope of their inventions. Needless to say, this is a monumental event for patent attorneys, molecular biologists, the PTO, and the world.

The origins of the dispute began with Doudna’s original patent application (No. 13/842,859), filed on March 15, 2013—a day before the PTO’s first-to-file rules came into effect—but given a priority date of May 25, 2012.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.