Any chance that the ugly patent fight over CRISPR gene editing would end quickly or amicably looks about as likely as President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee sailing through the Senate, according to the first conference call between lawyers from the Broad Institute and the University of California, the two warring institutions.
One of the longer discussions during the 30-minute call on March 10 centered on allegations that UC had made as part of a requested interference proceeding — which was called to decide whether the CRISPR patents awarded to the Broad should be rescinded and awarded instead to UC.
In its motion to the US Patent and Trademark Office, UC’s attorneys alleged that all of the Broad’s CRISPR patents (it has about a dozen) were essentially fraudulently obtained. Broad biologist Feng Zhang, the lead inventor on the patents, won them through “inequitable conduct,” according to UC.
Zhang “never had or made use of” a form of RNA, called tracrRNA, that is an essential component of the CRISPR-Cas9 genome-editing system “in any of the submitted experimental data and results,” UC claimed. “It is believed that Broad withheld or misrepresented material information with the intent to deceive the USPTO” into believing that Zhang had accomplished more than he actually did, UC wrote in its motion.
Broad attorney Steven Trybus of the Chicago-based law firm Jenner & Block told the judges that the Massachusetts institute “strenuously” denies those allegations, called them “unfounded,” and argued that even making them violated the patent office’s rules. He asked the judges to “strike that from the record.”
They promised to “look into it.”
The USPTO posted transcripts of the call on Tuesday.
During last week’s call, one of the three judges asked whether the institutions were trying to reach a settlement. Trybus said, “There has not been” any discussion of that.
UC, as what is called the “senior party” in the case — the one that filed for a CRISPR patent first — would initiate settlement talks “if they were interested in it,” Trybus said, “but we have not had that opportunity one way or the other to discuss settlement.”
UC attorney Todd Walters of Buchanan, Ingersoll & Rooney, a firm in Alexandria, Va., confirmed that “there has not been any formal discussions between the parties.”
If that doesn’t change, the proceeding will last well into the next administration. One of the judges, formulating a schedule for the case, said that if a hearing were held, “that may be in mid-November.”
That would give the parties ample opportunity for more exchanges that have managed to remain just barely above the “Jane, you ignorant slut” level.