CRISPR is cheap and easy enough to be employed in every lab not just by major ag-biotech companies. A serious roadblock standing in the way of researchers, however, threatened to limit the technology potential for plant breeding: intellectual property (IP) rights. The good news is that two major patent holders, DuPont Pioneer and the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, have agreed to create a joint licensing framework for genome editing in agriculture. As a result, academic researchers are allowed to use CRISPR on plants free of charge, while biotech companies interested in commercial ag applications have a simplified procedure to access to the tools they need.Pioneer is an early mover in the field of edited crops and has exclusive rights for agricultural use to a set of CRISPR patents and patent applications, including those filed by the technique inventors Jennifer Doudna and Emanuelle Charpentier. Broad is the other organization controlling much of the foundational intellectual property, with the contribution of collaborators in key universities and research centers in the US. The Institute was already making these rights freely available to academic and non-profit researchers for all uses and available for non-exclusive licensing for commercial use in agriculture. Before the agreement, however, the legal scenario was uncertain, due to the thicket of overlapping patents. Broad is now providing Pioneer with a non-exclusive license to Broad’s patents, while Pioneer is joining Broad in providing non-exclusive licenses to its own patents, as well as making the intellectual property freely available to public and non-profit research.
Pioneer’s effort to mark a shift from oligopolistic policies adopted in the past by GMOs producers is quite obvious. Let’s wait and see if the other major roadblock to agricultural biotechnology adoption will also be removed: the European Union has not decided yet whether to relieve the new breeding technologies of the regulatory burden enforced on older GM techniques.