A few years ago CRISPR, shook up the world of biology. CRISPR makes it easy to edit the genes of pretty much any organism, which opens up nearly limitless possibilities including the ability to fix genetic deficiencies, cure diseases, or wipe out entire species. The problem is, no one’s quite sure who invented it first.
Depending on who you ask, CRISPR was invented by researchers from either the University of California, Berkeley or the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard. Both institutes independently developed CRISPR at around the same time, and both are seeking a patent that could be worth billions.
The primary issue of the patent fight is that although the Berkeley team published its CRISPR research first, its only got the technique to work in bacteria. The Broad team used mouse and human cells, and its research—which could be applied to any multicellular organism—is potentially more useful.
This distinction is important, because uses in multicellular organisms are the real draw. The Berkeley lawyers are trying to argue that there’s no real difference between CRISPR in bacteria and CRISPR in people, but its own researcher is on record saying otherwise. The Broad team, meanwhile, is using this to argue that its version of CRISPR is the only one that should count.
There are several ways this fight could end, and with the patent court expected to make a decision sometime early this year we should find out sooner rather than later. The court could rule completely in favor of either team, or give some rights to both groups. However, either side might also appeal the decision which would take the fight to federal circuit court. There’s a potentially long road ahead before we settle who invented and therefore controls one of the most promising biological discoveries of the 21st century.