CRISPR-Cas9 inventor Jennifer Doudna’s plans on moving forward, genetically modifying humans

The decision of who owned the rights to a hotly disputed CRISPR gene editing patent came down in favor of the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard today so you’d think the mood would be sour at the University of California, Berkeley, the other contender in the case. But Berkeley’s Jennifer Doudna tells TechCrunch this is a positive for her.

“I’m actually delighted to know the claims of our original patent have been allowed by the patent examiner and can now move forward towards issuance,” she said.

Doudna is credited with being the first to figure out how to use CRISPR to program cells using the Cas9 enzyme. UC Berkeley filed a patent on behalf of Doudna’s work, but the Broad Institute used a fast-track option to beat UC Berkeley regarding a patent for the same technique on the more complex eukaryotic cells. Doudna and her co-inventor Emmanuelle Charpentier claimed this was a nuanced difference and was an “obvious” next step in the process and, therefore, should not be considered for a separate patent.

While much of the science world seemed to agree with Doudna and her cohorts, the U.S. patent office thought the Broad Institute deserved a separate patent for making that leap.

But, as Doudna points out, though the judge did not throw out the Broad Institute’s claims to that patent, it also doesn’t throw out her claim that her patent should be able to cover all cells. “We’re actually anticipating getting our patent issued finally, one that has very broad claims,” she says, comparing the two patents to tennis balls.

“The analogy I’ve used to explain this is the Broad Institute’s patent is for green tennis balls but the patent we will have is for all tennis balls,” Doudna told TechCrunch.

What the decision doesn’t make clear is which entity companies should license from. Companies such as Monsanto, GE Healthcare and others working with the Broad Institue or Doudna’s CRISPR startup Caribou Bioscience may have to get licenses from both parties if they want to work on CRISPRing plants and animal cells for research.

“This will be an ongoing thing and most likely additional filings,” says Doudna, who also did not rule out the potential that Berkeley could appeal the decision.

Meanwhile, Berkeley has formed a partnership with the University of California San Francisco to form the Innovative Genomics Institute (IGI), which will be working with Doudna’s technology to research solving human genetic diseases and is also looking at solving issues in plant genomics.

The important piece for Doudna is that everyone can at least start to move forward in applying the technology. “In the end, as scientists, we would all like to see this technology help people and ultimately that’s got to be the goal that we all have,” she tells TechCrunch.

The decision may come at just the right time. The use of CRISPR in modifying human embryos with certain heritable diseases was just approved this week by a science advisory panel formed by the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Medicine.