CRISPR Update: 9 Oppositions filed against first granted European CRISPR-Cas9 patent

The revolutionary CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing method is presently the hottest issue in molecular biology. The scientists Jennifer Doudna of UC Berkely, Emmanuelle Charpentier of the Max-Planck Institute for Infection Biology in Berlin and Feng Zhang of the Broad Institute (jointly operated by the MIT and Harvard University) are regarded as pioneers in this field and areeach involved in start-up companies commercializing the new technology.

In parallel a dispute about who owns the IP related to this scientific breakthrough has evolved. Interference proceedings are pending before the USPTO to decide ownership of the technology.

Meanwhile Mr. Zhang and the Broad Institute obtained four granted patents in Europe by means of an ultra-fast prosecution procedure between February 11 and September 2, 2015. The 9-months opposition period against the first grated patent EP 2 771 468 expired on November 11 and nine oppositions have been filed (according to the EPO patent register on November 13, 2015). The opponents are:

  1. CRISPR Therapeutics AG
  2. Novozymes A/S
  3. Boxall Intellectual Property Management Ltd.
  4. Sarittarius Intellectual Property
  5. Regimbeau
  6. Mr. George Schlich
  7. Dr. Martin Grund
  8. Mr. Harvey Adams
  9. Dr. Ulrich Storz

The first opponent in the list is the company co-founded by Emanuelle Charpentier for commercializing the gene editing technology, opponent 2 is a Danish biotech company, opponents 3 to 5 are IP law firms and opponents 6 to 9 are patent attorneys from the UK or Germany. It is not unlikely that opponents 3 to 9 are so-called “strawman opponents”, i.e. acting for a different party wishing not to be named in the proceedings. Such strawman oppositions are explicitly allowed under EPO case law and are quite common if the “real opponent” e.g. wishes not to endanger ongoing cooperation with the patentee.

Despite much interest of the biotech community in the case, a first instance decision of the opposition division cannot be expected earlier than in about two years, in particular in view of the huge amount of evidence filed by the opponents.