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CRISPR — the biggest biotech discovery in decades — is stuck in legal limbo

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Organization is hearing oral arguments this week in a bitter fight between two storied research universities over patent rights to CRISPR, a revolutionary gene-editing technology.

Judges will decide whether Jennifer Doudna and her research team at the University of California, Berkeley or Feng Zhang of MIT’s Broad Institute is the true inventor of the method that’s changing the biotech world.

CRISPR is a unique organization of DNA sequences found in bacteria. They’re essentially memories of previous infections that can be used as guides to find and destroy invading viruses. Scientists can then cut and paste the DNA sequences anywhere, offering the potential treatments for genetic diseases like sickle-cell disease, cancer treatments, and even human embryo modification.

While the winner of this patent battle will have licensing rights likely to be worth billions, the legal debate has left the business side of CRISPR frozen until a decision is made.