Tuesday, May 1, 2018


The University of California is fighting back in its quest to regain control over the rights to the powerful gene-editing technology known as CRISPR-Cas9. On Monday, in a case before the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in Washington, D.C., UC asserted that the valuable patents on the revolutionary tool belong to UC, not the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT — and that the nation’s patent office committed serious legal errors when it ruled in 2017 against the University of California.

It’s a high stakes showdown over intellectual-property rights between two of the nation’s most prestigious institutions, with perhaps a billion dollars in the balance. While research universities often reach settlements over patent disputes, both sides in this CRISPR case have engaged in a long, vitriolic and expensive patent fight.

On Monday, UC clearly failed to win over at least one of the three judges, according to observers. The federal circuit has to give deference to the factual determinations of the Patent Board, so, in only 15 minutes, UC had to convince the judges that the patent office did not have “substantial evidence” for its support of Broad Institute. CRISPR’s scientific breakthrough – with the potential to cure countless genetic disorders from sickle cell anemia to cystic fibrosis – was devised by UC Berkeley cell biologist Jennifer Doudna and her European collaborator Emmanuelle Charpentier. It was improved upon by Broad Institute’s Feng Zhang.

“We presented compelling arguments today that the PTAB (U.S. Patent Trial and Appeal Board Patent Office) committed several legal errors, including disregarding Supreme Court and Federal Circuit precedent,” Charles F. Robinson, UC general counsel said in a statement after Monday’s 35-minute hearing. “Based on the questioning today, we are optimistic that the court has serious doubts about several aspects of the PTAB’s decision,” he said.

Broad also declared victory. “Based on the oral arguments today, we are even more confident the Federal Circuit will affirm the PTAB’s judgment,” the institute wrote in a statement. A decision is expected by late summer...

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