CRISPR is a revolutionary advance in biotechnology: it allows molecular biologists to edit cells’ DNA with ease and precision unimaginable even a decade ago. The technology is also the subject of contentious patent dispute between several universities, and governed by a maze licensing agreements among research institutions, nonprofits, biotech startups, and large pharmaceutical developers.
Patents in the CRISPR space illuminate numerous problems—and advantages—of university-based intellectual property for groundbreaking technologies. The CRISPR patents herald the beginning of skepticism over interinstitutional collaboration, especially for lucrative “translational” technologies. And they have encouraged universities—otherwise committed to licensing their patents widely—to invest in for-profit surrogate companies to narrowly manage their license agreements for them. At the same time, CRISPR patents have allowed publicly minded research institutions to retain control over the technology to essentially prevent some of the technology’s greatest potential abuses: runaway genetic modifications in the wild, also known as “gene drives”; seed-saving restrictions for agriculture; and germ-line human engineering.
Using four short papers as guides, this talk will present an overview of these issues and discuss their application to future applications of CRISPR and other significant university-developed technology.
Jacob S. Sherkow is an Associate Professor of Law and affiliated faculty at the Innovation Center for Law and Technology at New York Law School, where he teaches a variety of courses related to intellectual property. His research focuses on how scientific developments, especially in the biosciences, affect patent law and litigation. Prof. Sherkow is the author of over two dozen articles on these and related topics in both traditional law reviews and scientific journals, including the Yale Law Journal, the Stanford Law Review, Science, and Nature. He has been a frequent commentator on patent matters in popular outlets such as the Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and NPR. Prof. Sherkow also currently serves as a community representative on the New York Genome Center’s Institutional Biosafety Committee, and has advised a committee of France’s National Assembly on issues concerning the patenting of biotechnological research tools. Previously, Prof. Sherkow was a Fellow in the Center for Law and the Biosciences at Stanford Law School and a patent litigator at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher in New York. He was also a law clerk in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York.
Prof. Sherkow graduated cum laude from the University of Michigan Law School, where he was an editor of the Michigan Law Review and was the recipient of the Fred L. Leckie and James N. Adler Scholarships. He also holds an M.A. in biotechnology from Columbia University and a B.Sc. from McGill University, where he majored in molecular biology and English literature. In addition to his legal training, Prof. Sherkow has several years of experience as a research scientist in molecular biology, is a certified Editor in the Life Sciences (BELS), and is an avid squash player.