[Policy Forum] CRISPR, surrogate licensing, and scientific discovery
Several institutions are embroiled in a legal dispute over the foundational patent rights to CRISPR-Cas9 gene-editing technology, and it may take years for their competing claims to be resolved (1–4). But even before ownership of the patents is finalized, the institutions behind CRISPR have wasted no time capitalizing on the huge market for this groundbreaking technology by entering into a series of license agreements with commercial enterprises (see the figure). With respect to the potentially lucrative market for human therapeutics and treatments, each of the key CRISPR patent holders has granted exclusive rights to a spinoff or “surrogate” company formed by the institution and one of its principal researchers (5, 6). Although this model, in which a university effectively outsources the licensing and commercialization of a valuable patent portfolio to a private company, is not uncommon in the world of university technology transfer, we suggest it could rapidly bottleneck the use of CRISPR technology to discover and develop useful human therapeutics.
Authors: Jorge L. Contreras, Jacob S. Sherkow
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