CRISPR Biotechs Create IP Pact: More Legal Battles Ahead?

Key patents for gene-editing technology are at stake.

The legal war for CRISPR gene-editing technology is heating up, with several biotechs joining forces to coordinate the defense and enforcement of key patents. An invention management deal has been struck by CRISPR Therapeutics, Intellia Therapeutics, Caribou Biosciences and ERS Genomics covering the CRISPR/Cas9-related intellectual property owned by the University of California, Emmanuelle Charpentier and University of Vienna, according to Scientific American.

The Broad Institute and Editas Medicine, which draws its IP from the Broad, disagrees. While the University of California's Jennifer Doudna published the landmark 2012 study showing CRISPR's gene-editing potential, The Broad believes its researcher Feng Zheng made the crucial scientific step which demonstrated CRISPR could be applied to human DNA. Under now-changed patent rules, The Board was awarded the initial patent.

UC is challenging that decision by the U.S. Patent Office through a process known as "interference." The first and only oral arguments in the case were held earlier this month and a decision is likely sometime next year.

"Intellia, CRISPR Therapeutics, Caribou and ERS view this agreement as enhancing the efforts to protect our shared intellectual property rights and support the ongoing development of our product candidates, as well as those of our corresponding partners and licensees," Novak said.

Per the deal, each of the co-owners (i.e. UC, Charpentier or the University of Vienna) grants so-called cross-consents to "all existing and future licenses based on the rights of another co-owner." The agreement unites the biotechs aligned with UC into a more cohesive group opposing the Broad and Editas. Yet even if the Broad wins, the impact to the biotechs themselves may less damaging than first appearances.

A verdict would probably force the biotechs on one side or the other to negotiate new licenses from the winning party, according to MIT Technology Review. That would cost money and could entail royalties for any future products that make it to market. Biotechs on each side should be able to continue their march towards human testing of CRISPR.