The licensing landscape of CRISPR technologies, and its implications

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In this Policy Forum, Jorge L. Contreras and Jacob S. Sherkow highlight the competing claims over the foundational patent rights to CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing technology in which several institutions are embroiled. All the while, each of the key CRISPR patent holders involved has granted exclusive rights to a spinoff or "surrogate" company formed by the institution and one of its principal researchers. This approach, the authors say, "could rapidly bottleneck the use of CRISPR technology to discover and develop useful human therapeutics." For example, the current setup could prevent unlicensed companies with the expertise and wherewithal to develop novel human therapies using CRISPR from obtaining the sublicense necessary to undertake this work. The authors reviewed all of the surrogates' license agreements that have been made publicly available to date, and they go on to suggest how the current exclusive licenses could be restructured for greater access to this broadly applicable "platform" technology, in various spaces.

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