This week, the biggest science-patent dispute in decades is getting a hearing at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office headquarters. The invention in dispute is the gene-editing technique CRISPR, and at stake are millions, maybe even billions, of dollars for the winning side. CRISPR is the hugely hyped technology that could launch life-saving therapies, novel genetically modified crops, new forms of mosquito control, and more. It could—without much exaggeration—change the world.
Any company that wants to use CRISPR will have to license it from the patent dispute’s winner. The parties embroiled in this fight are universities: the Broad Institute, which is a research institute affiliated with MIT and Harvard, and the University of California, Berkeley.* Their lawyers represent rival groups of scientists with claims to have first invented CRISPR. Berkeley’s group published their work and filed for a patent first, by a few months—but the patent office ended up awarding a patent to the Broad Institute’s group, due to some complicated procedural rules. The legal and scientific details of the dispute get pretty arcane pretty fast, but you can read some excellent reporting here, here, and here.