CRISPR: A Biotechnology Breakthrough and an Inventorship Quandary

Sponsored by the Agricultural and Food Law Consortium


A recent biotechnology discovery – CRISPR – may influence biotechnology as profoundly as other monumental discoveries such as DNA, vaccines, and penicillin.  The applications offered by CRISPR (an acronym for “Clustered Regularly lnterspaced Short Palindromic Repeats”) can advantageously alter the genetic material of virtually any organism, and can potentially benefit many different technologies – from eliminating disease-causing genes in animals to improving the growth characteristics of food crops.  At this early stage, the possibilities for using CRISPR platforms are endless.

However, as of now, the question of who is the inventor of CRISPR remains unanswered.  Ultimately, this billion-dollar answer will be determined at the conclusion of a current proceeding in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.  Two different parties – one led by Jennifer Doudna at the University of California, Berkeley and a second led by Feng Zhang from the Broad Institute/MIT – are the parties to a current “interference proceeding” to determine which entity is the true inventor of CRISPR technology.  The battle for ownership of a prospective billion dollar industry has just begun and will be closely followed by the agricultural biotechnology sector.  Start-up companies focusing on CRISPR technologies have received millions in VC funding.  And as recent findings suggest that CRISPR may be effective in many different technologies, the inventorship decision will have far-reaching effects on biotechnology for many years to come.  This webinar will include a discussion of the applications of the CRISPR system and its potential in the agricultural industry, as well as an overview of the pending legal case regarding inventorship of the technology.


This webinar was recorded on September 21, 2016.  To listen to a recording of the webinar, please click here.


Eric E. Williams
Barnes & Thornburg LLP

Eric E. Williams is a patent attorney in the Indianapolis, Indiana office of Barnes & Thornburg LLP and a member of the firm’s Intellectual Property Law Department.  Eric grew up in rural Clinton County, Indiana and received a doctorate of pharmacy degree from Purdue University and a law degree from Indiana University.

Currently, his law practice is focused on preparing and prosecuting patent applications through the United States Patent and Trademark Office and counseling clients on the protection of intellectual property.  He is a member of the firm’s Ag and Food Law Practice Group and Food, Drug, and Device Law Practice Group, and works extensively to advise universities, ag biotechnology, and pharmaceutical companies on protection of their intellectual property.

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