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Fight, Fight, Fight!

Jennifer Doudna, of the University of California, Berkeley, and Emmanuelle Charpentier, of the Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research, in Germany won a $3 million Breakthrough Prize in 2014 for their CRISPR-Cas9 paper in Science that described the technology. And now, Doudna and her startup company Caribou Biosciences have been awarded a patent for it.

But there's a fight brewing, says The Economist — Doudna and her team were the first to file a patent, but they don't have the rights to commercialize it. That right was granted to Feng Zhang, of the Broad Institute and MIT. Those institutions are also taking credit for inventing CRISPR, and the USPTO has gotten involved to determine which side can claim ownership.

The Broad says that Doudna didn't really invent CRISPR but rather did a study of its properties, The Economist reports. But Doudna supporters say she did the substantive work that led to the development of functional gene editing techniques.

"The forthcoming USPTO proceedings must therefore determine who knew what and when," The Economist says. "Although these days patents are granted on a simpler 'first to file' basis, the dispute will be settled under the older, 'first to invent' standard, which was in place when both applications were made." The main question the body will have to answer is who made the discovery first.

Team Zhang has the burden to prove its assertions, The Economist notes. Zhang will have to prove he discovered CRISPR-Cas9 before Doudna's paper was published in 2012. The hearings start on March 9. The patent, and possible a Nobel Prize, are at stake.