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    Splice and Dice: Patent Fight Over Game-Changing Genetic Technology Heats Up

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    On Tuesday, the three-judge panel of the Patent Trial and Appeal Board heard oral arguments from lawyers for both sides in a fierce dispute regarding CRISPR, the nascent gene-editing technology projected to change the way humanity approaches manipulating the physical body.

    CRISPR allows geneticists to edit parts of the genome by cutting, pasting, or altering sections of the DNA sequence, and is considered to be the simplest and most accurate method of genetic manipulation to date.

    The breakthrough technology is one of the most important genetic engineering discoveries of the century, promising endless applications in medicine and agriculture. Patenting the tools of the groundbreaking technique could be worth billions of dollars.

    But it is for the court to decide who owns the foundational intellectual work behind the technique.

    In one corner of the dispute are research collaborators Jennifer Doudna, of the University of California, Berkeley, and French microbiologist Emmanuelle Charpentier, of the Max Planck Institute in Berlin. Doudna and Charpentier filed their patent application in May 2012, but in their original key paper on CRISPR they simply disclosed how to use it with simple organisms, such as bacteria.

    On the other side of the dispute is Feng Zhang, of the Broad Institute, who filed his patent request several months later after a successful test of CRISPR with eukaryotes, or advanced organisms, including mammals. This step forward opened up broad possibilities for additional uses of the technology, especially in editing human cell DNA.

    During the 45-minute Tuesday hearing attorneys for the Broad Institute argued that Zhang had already begun work on the technology prior to the publication of the scientific work of the two women, and claimed that his research closed the gap between what was termed their raw study and Zhang's demonstration of CRISPR's use as a gene editor in human cells.

    Lawyers for the University of California countered that there was no indication in any of Doudna's interviews that she or her partner believed that CRISPR would not work in eukaryotic cells.

    In future weeks the Alexandria, Virginia, patent court will define what the technology is, and what it is not, as well as making a judgment on whether there are two distinct findings.

    UC Berkeley biologist Michael Eisen wrote in his blog that none of the parties should receive patents for CRISPR since, "it is a disservice to science and the public for academic scientists to ever claim intellectual property in their work."    

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    patent, genetics, court, DNA, United States
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