The Controversial Genome-Editing Technique CRISPR-Cas9

On February 15, 2017, the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) of the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) issued a ruling on a patent dispute about a genome-editing technique called CRISPR-Cas9.  The Regents of the University of California, University of Vienna, and a scientist named Emmanuelle Charpentier (collectively “UC”) initiated this legal proceeding, called an interference, against the Broad Institute, Inc., Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and President and Fellows of Harvard College (collectively “Broad”). The three-judge panel unanimously sided with Broad concluding, although temporarily, a legal battle closely watched by scientists, legal professionals and the biotechnology industry. On April 12, 2017, UC filed an appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. An acronym for “clustered, regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats,” CRISPR is short sequences of ribonucleic acid (RNA) that can recognize and bind to complementary deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) sequences in the genome of an organism. Cas9, a protein functioning like a pair of molecular scissors, can cut through the genomic DNA at the binding site.  The CRISPR-Cas9 system, functioning like a cut and paste tool in a word processor, can be employed to permanently modify the genome of an organism by removing deleterious genes or inserting beneficial ones.  UC’s patent application, which was filed earlier than Broad’s, described the functions of CRISPR-Cas9 in prokaryotes−single-cell organisms without cellular nucleus such as bacterium−in a non-cellular environment, while Broad’s patents demonstrated the applications of CRISPR-Cas9 in the more complex cellular environment of eukaryotes−humans, animals and plants.  During the PTAB hearings, UC argued that its patent claims anticipated or rendered Broad’s obvious, therefore making Board’s invention...