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After nearly seven years of failing to win fundamental patents on the genome-editing technology CRISPR, a unit of one of the world’s largest life sciences companies has thrown a Hail Mary: Late last Friday, MilliporeSigma petitioned the U.S. Patent and Trademark office to open an interference proceeding between CRISPR-Cas9 patents that it applied for way back in 2012 and patents that the University of California has applied for or been awarded.

The unusual move — New York Law School patent expert Jacob Sherkow’s reaction was “holy s***,” and MilliporeSigma itself described the circumstances as “extraordinary” — seems to be the company’s last-ditch effort to pull out a CRISPR victory at the patent office, which it believes has treated its applications in a way that is inconsistent with how it has treated others.


“What we’re trying to do with this petition is highlight a fundamental unfairness in how Sigma-Aldrich’s patent applications” covering the use of CRISPR in plants and animals, or eukaryotes, “are being handled compared to others’,” company attorney Benjamin Sodey said, referring to the MilliporeSigma unit.

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  • MilliporeSigma/Merck has patents issued in dozens of countries for foundational CRISPR technologies (integration using CRISPR, nickases, proxy CRISPR, and more). It sounds like the write either never knew this, chose to ignore it, or went with the more sensational “Hail Mary” language simply to grab people’s attention. Either way, it’s got the tone of a tabloid article with the equivalent amount of research beind it.

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