The biotech trial of the century is over—for now. On Wednesday, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office decided in favor of the Broad Institute, which has been battling the University of California for the patent over CRISPR, a widely hyped gene-editing technique with applications in human medicine, agriculture, and beyond.
The ruling lets the Broad’s original CRISPR patents stand. Scientists based at the UC Berkeley and the Broad published papers about CRISPR’s use in gene editing in 2012 and 2013, respectively, and the two institutions promptly filed for patents. The Broad was awarded the first of a series of patents in 2014.
UC struck back, contending that the Broad’s patents “interfered” with its application—meaning the patents had overlapping claims—which set in motion the “interference proceeding” that ended today. UC said in a statement and it “respects” the decision but would consider legal options including an appeal. The ruling of no interference also means UC’s still pending patent application is up for approval again, though it’s unclear how such a patent, if approved, would interact with the Broad’s. For now, the Broad is ahead.
That’s a lot of legal wrangling—motivated by a lot of money at stake for the Broad and the University of California. If CRISPR is as widely applicable in biotech as many expect, whoever holds the patent could end up with millions of dollars in licensing fees from companies that want to use the technique to develop new therapies or products. There is precedent: An older genetic-modification technique from the 70s has netted Stanford and UC $255 million in licensing fees.