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Use What We've Got

The patent system could be used to regulate gene editing, writes the University of Michigan's Shobita Parthasarathy at Nature in an opinion piece.

Advisory groups in both the US and the UK have recommended oversight measures for gene editing be established, but Parthasarathy notes that laws for emerging biotechnologies often take a long time to be put into place, if at all. Instead, she notes that patents have been used in the past to regulate, for instance, atomic energy, and, currently, EU directives limit the patenting of modified animals and prohibit the patenting of methods to modify human sperm, eggs, or embryos.

Parthasarathy proposes that the US develop a working group to organize a gene-editing patent advisory committee. That committee would then develop a regulatory framework for reviewing and granting gene-editing patents. Through this, she says, the committee could determine which inventions are important to the public and keep an eye on how they are used and licensed.

"[E]xisting approaches, and the entities that are conventionally tasked with overseeing areas of scientific research, seem ill-equipped to address complex societal and value-based concerns in an increasingly privatized world," she writes. "Patents, which affect the thousands of investigators now using CRISPR-Cas9 in both the private and public sector, should be part of the mix."