Harvard, MIT research team keeps gene-editing patent rights

MIT and Harvard team wins valuable patents on gene-editing technology called CRISPR.

Patent ruling for gene editing tool that allows scientists to edit DNA with unparalleled ease and precision

Feng Zhang and the Broad Institute own a patent demonstrating the use of CRISPR in complex cells. (Justin Knight/Broad Communications/Canadian Press)

The Broad Institute, a biological and genomic research center affiliated with MIT and Harvard, will keep valuable patents on a revolutionary gene-editing technology known as CRISPR, a U.S. patent agency ruled on Wednesday.

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office's Patent Trial and Appeal Board in Alexandria, Virginia, rejected a claim by a rival team, associated with the University of California at Berkeley and University of Vienna in Austria, that they invented the technology first.

The patent rights could be worth hundreds of millions of dollars, as the technology could revolutionize treatment of genetic diseases, crop engineering and other areas.

The University of California said in a statement that it would consider an appeal of the ruling.

CRISPR works as a type of molecular scissors that can trim away unwanted pieces of genetic material, and replace them with new ones. Easier to use than older techniques, it has quickly become the preferred method of gene editing in research labs.

In 2012, a research team led by Berkeley's Jennifer Doudna and Vienna's Emmanuelle Charpentier was first to apply for a CRISPR patent.

A team at MIT and Harvard, led by MIT professor Feng Zhang, applied for a patent months later, opting for a fast-track review process. It became the first to obtain a CRISPR patent in 2014.

In April 2015, the Berkeley team petitioned the patent agency to launch a so-called interference proceeding, claiming the Harvard-MIT patents covered the same invention as the Berkeley team's earlier application.

Broad has countered that its patent represented the real breakthrough because it described the use of CRISPR in plant and animal cells for the first time.

The patent board's decision on Wednesday said there was " no interference in fact" between Berkeley's patent application and Broad's patents, meaning both could be separately patentable.