by Benson Hill

Enabling Genome Editing to be a Truly Enabling Technology – Part II

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This week Wired published, “CRISPR Can Speed Up Nature – And Change the Way We Grow Food”, highlighting the potential for gene editing, an advanced form of plant breeding, to develop more healthy, flavorful, sustainably-grown food choices.  A community of innovators is cited in the article – not just the traditional, large multinational companies focused on corn and soybeans – but a generation of smaller new food innovators, such as Calyxt and Inari, dedicated to improving and modernizing our food system.

We are one of those new food innovators with a mission to empower more food innovators.  We are a platform company that makes it easy and affordable for companies of any size working on any crop to access the most advanced genomics tools and expertise they need to make food better.  Among the choices in that toolbox is a portfolio of gene editing nucleases of different families we call CRISPR 2.0 (Cpf1) and CRISPR 3.0 (Cms1) that organizations can access to harness the vast and largely underutilized natural genetic diversity of plants in their research and product development.

We believe that modernizing our food system is one of the most significant needs of our time, and we believe it will take a robust community of innovators to do it.  Our U.S. patent laws were designed to stimulate and enable innovation, but overly broad claims of CRISPR technology in the hands of very few risk stifling innovation and much-needed improvements, as we have discussed in this Nature Biotechnology article and blog post.

Earlier this week we filed a petition with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) as part of its Post Grant Review Process to reconsider the claims it has granted to the Broad Institute regarding CRISPR Cpf1 nucleases.  The Post Grant Review Process exists for interested stakeholders to request a review of the patentability of granted claims for grounds including written description and enablement, as discussed for Cas9 in the Nature Biotechnology article and blog post cited above.  Based on current examination guidelines and case law, we believe that the claims granted to the Broad Institute are overly broad and thus invalid as set forth in the petition filed with USPTO.

Cpf1 nucleases that are the subject of this request represent only a fraction of our genome editing portfolio, but as a platform company, we believe it’s important to promote and defend an intellectual property landscape that provides innovators with certainty, clarity and choice.  As an innovator and technology developer, we value and seek the protection of invention through the patent system for direct use and licensing to other companies.   We strive to stay at the forefront of innovation and protect our own inventions while avoiding the types of overreach within the patent system that have the effect of stifling innovation.   As described in this AgFunder article, the current Cas9 technology remains tightly held under unclear or challenging licensing terms for innovators to access. Food innovators and the farmers and the consumers they serve deserve better.  Innovation in food production is too important to continue to be limited to the hands of a few.