OAKLAND – After receiving intellectual property rights for developments in CRISPR technology in mid-February, Caribou Biosciences Inc., announced a new alliance with Integrated DNA Technologies Inc., (IDT) that will allow both companies to perform extensive research in CRISPR - Cas9 technology.

On Feb. 23, Caribou Biosciences posted a press release stating that the two companies “entered into a non-exclusive license agreement under which Caribou has granted IDT worldwide rights to commercialize CRISPR-Cas9 reagents under Caribou’s intellectual property.” One week earlier, Caribou’s co-founder Jennifer Doudna, a researcher at UC Berkeley, and other researches received a patent from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office allowing them the intellectual property rights for a specific technique within CRISPR technology.

According to Jeffrey Lefstin, a law professor at University of California’s Hastings College of Law, the patent issued is fairly limited when considering the entirety of CRISPR technology. The patent’s claims are narrow, focusing specifically on one method, Lefstin told the Northern California Record. The patent protects a protein-relocation technique that Doudna’s team invented, he said. Doudna’s team patented a specific approach for finding two pieces of DNA that are located close to one another and for directing proteins, he said. These patented processes fall into the family of gene editing.

In the patent, the research team listed their primary claim to be inventing a “method for detecting if two complexes are in proximity to one another.” They provided 12 supporting claims, all of which concerned genetic mobility. The goal with the newly patented technique and others within CRISPR technology falls under genetic engineering, Lefstin said.

“Genome engineering can refer to altering the genome by deleting, inserting, mutating, or substituting specific nucleic acid sequences. The altering can be gene or location specific,” the patent description states.

Having this patent gives Caribou Biosciences the right to prohibit others from using the technique, Lefstin said. The U.S. Patent Office granted Doudna and her team the intellectual property rights because they were able to prove in their patent request that they had conceived the idea for the technique and implemented it first, Lefstin said. The researchers submitted their patent request on March 14, 2013, two days before the patent office began implementation of a new provision for patents, he said.

As part of the new provision, patent requirements changed the awarding of ownership from whoever was first to conceive an invention and put it into practice, to whoever is first to file, Lefstin said. This provision became law on March 16, 2013.

When talking about the timing of the researchers’ submission, he said that they probably purposed to get the patent in before the change date, so they would fall under the first-to-invent rule.

Currently, Caribou Biosciences, namely Doudna, faces interference proceedings with Feng Zhang of the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard for other patents involving CRISPR technology. Interference proceedings are administrative trials held by the USPTO’s judges to assess rival inventors’ claims for who deserves patent rights, Lefstin said. For all cases and patents brought forward before the 2013 provision, inventors must be able to prove that they were first to have conceived and physically implemented the invention, Lefstin said.

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