U.S. patent agency to review Harvard, MIT's claim to CRISPR technology

(Reuters) - The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office on Monday said it would review whether Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology can claim rights to a gene-editing technology known as CRISPR, adding fuel to a rivalry between those institutions and the University of California.

The patent office said it would conduct a so-called interference proceeding to determine who first invented CRISPR genome editing in plant and animal cells, a revolutionary, billion-dollar technology.

The two parties to the proceeding will be the Broad Institute, a biological and genomic research center affiliated with MIT and Harvard, and the University of California.

The proceeding could result in the cancellation of 13 U.S. patents already granted to the Broad Institute on various aspects of CRISPR technology.

“The initiation of this interference proceeding highlights that previous decisions involving the (Broad Institute) did not determine who was the first to invent this technology, and it lays out a pathway for resolving this important issue,” Eldora Ellison, a lawyer for the University of California, said in a statement.

The university was confident that the patent office will ultimately recognize that a team led by two of its researchers first invented CRISPR genome editing in plant and animal cells, Ellison said.

Broad Institute said in a statement that it welcomed the U.S. Patent Office’s action and looked forward to participating in the interference proceeding.

Shares of Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Editas Medicine Inc, a biotechnology company that licenses Harvard and MIT’s CRISPR-related patents, rose 4.8 percent in Tuesday trading on Nasdaq.

CRISPR allows scientists to edit genes by using biological “scissors,” which can find and replace selected stretches of DNA.

The technology has been hailed as a scientific breakthrough that could lead to cures for diseases driven by genetic mutations or abnormalities and also have applications for agricultural crops.

In 2012, a research team led by Berkeley’s Jennifer Doudna and the University of Vienna’s Emmanuelle Charpentier was first to apply for a CRISPR patent.

A team at Harvard and MIT’s Broad Institute applied for a patent months later, opting for a fast-track review process. It became the first to obtain a CRISPR patent in 2014, and has since obtained additional patents.

Reporting by Jan Wolfe