During these years, while talking about the possibilities of CRISPR and new techniques of genetic editing, in a United States office two universities disputed the future of genetic engineering and the $ 46 billion that could generate the patent.
Now, at last, we have a statement that solves (partially) the problem. And while biotechnology development has made it not as momentous as it seemed a couple of years ago, the ruling may end up sending a very dangerous message to scientists around the world.
A $ 46 billion death battle
Shortly after Doudna and Charpentier's team first used CRISPR as a "molecular scalpel" to edit the genome, in a Massachusetts lab Feng Zhang and his team broadened the potential of the technique when applied to eukaryotic cells. Cells of complex organisms). There is the whole dispute.
When on March 15, 2013, the University of California applied for a patent for the CRISPR-Cas9 method on "non-human cells", in MIT's legal offices they saw another key patent escape again.
By 1974, Stanford and the University of California had patented recombinant DNA technology. In those years, the royalties reached 255 million dollars; The amount was now much higher (tens of billions), but above all it seemed to be at stake who was to lead the coming biotech revolution.
So at MIT they decided to sue and requested, by the fast procedure, the patent of CRISPR for human cells. That is, they were betting to take home all the clinical applications that could exist. The war was on.
The battle is getting worse
On April 15, 2014, the MIT patent was granted while the University of California was still under review. The battle became very cloudy . At that time, the Broad Institute of MIT began issuing licenses to exploit the technique. So Californian lawyers asked for an " interference procedure ". That is, they argued that Zhang's patents interfered with Doudna's.
The result of this first legal battle is that, according to US justice, such interference does not exist. In a 51-page decision, the judges understand that the possible clinical applications of CRISPR are not derived 'obviously' from the work of Doudna and Charpentier. That is, the MIT patent still stands. At least for now, since we all expect the University of California to appeal the decision.
How does this affect us?
When the dispute began, it seemed a key battle to define the future of genetic engineering. Above all, by the movements that began to call for a change of the patent law that would release these crucial technologies.
Since then, the antipatent movement has been blurred and Zhang and his team discovered a new patented version with the name Editas, CPF1. Before the effervescence of the field, everything seems to indicate that new techniques will appear that will break the monopoly that was expected.
However, there is a very negative consequence: what this opinion means for open science. The judges have relied on Doudna's public statements to reach its conclusion. And that can send a very problematic message to scientists .
In a world where patents are becoming a key strategic asset to finance science, this ruling can significantly change the way universities and research centers communicate. If we neglect a little, we will find ourselves in a bunkered and secretive environment where collaboration is almost impossible : a perfect environment to delve into the problems we already have.