Emmanuelle Charpentier (left) and Jennifer Doudna have a case for being the inventors of CRISPR-cas9, a transformative tool for gene editing.
The high-stakes fight over who invented a technology that could revolutionize medicine and agriculture heads to a courtroom Tuesday.
A gene-editing technology called CRISPR-cas9 could be worth billions of dollars. But it’s not clear who owns the idea.
U.S. patent judges will hear oral arguments to help untangle this issue, which has far more at stake than your garden-variety patent dispute.
“This is arguably the biggest biotechnology breakthrough in the past 30 or 40 years, and controlling who owns the foundational intellectual property behind that is consequentially pretty important,” says Jacob Sherkow, a professor at the New York Law College.
The CRISPR-cas9 technology allows scientists to make precise edits in DNA, and that ability could lead to whole new medical therapies, research tools and even new crop varieties.
“Part of what makes it such a fun spectator sport is the amount of money that’s at stake,” says Robert Underwood, at the Boston law firm McDermott Will & Emery. “These could potentially be the most valuable biotech patents ever.”
The dispute pits high-prestige universities and well-regarded scientists against one another.
On one side of the dispute are research collaborators Jennifer Doudna at the University of California, Berkeley and her European colleague Emmanuelle Charpentier (currently at the Max Planck Institute for Infection Biology in Berlin).
Feng Zhang, of the Broad Institute, is one of the contenders vying for royalties from CRISPR patents.