hans-reniers-lQGJCMY5qcM-unsplashModern-day science seems to dance along the fine line between awe-inspiring breakthrough and terrifying overreach. In the parlance of fiction, we seem to exist in the inflection point in the story wherein the scientist is making a decision that will ultimately lead them to go too far with their innovative work, dare too greatly and ultimately pays a personal cost — take your pick from Dr. Frankenstein to Dr. Octavius. Those are dramatic examples, certainly, and fictitious ones at that, but fiction does serve to highlight the human condition; science can be messy and contentious and at times terrifying, and yesterday's scorned scientist is tomorrow's supervillain.

What does any of this have to do with intellectual property? Ultimately not much. But it hopefully serves as a reminder to step back and marvel at the genius casually on display in a patent case between two concerns over creation and ownership of DNA-editing CRISPR technology.

The patent lawsuit between the University of California and the Broad Institute has been reanimated by new claims pressed by the university. In its breakdown of the case, Science offers an overview of the case to date, which saw UC request an interference proceeding from the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) on its behalf against Broad Institute due to patent filings the institute made for CRISPR inventions related to eukaryotes — filings that UC claimed violated the primacy of their own. (For a more detailed understanding of both CRISPR and eukaryotes, I would recommend searching out an explainer, and for fellow liberal arts graduates, an explainer to the explainer.)

UC lost its case with the PTAB, and a subsequent appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals, seemingly rendering the matter decided. But UC's latest challenge hinges upon the specifics of the patent filings. Initially, the UC CRISPR filing covered a broader application of the technology, while the Broad Institute petition focused in on its use in eukaryotes; based on that language, UC's case failed to hold sway. Now the university is making an appeal by claiming that their own work's application in eukaryotes would be obvious to anyone who understood and attempted to replicate their work. Understandably, the Broad Institute doesn't share this interpretation, and the case will continue to work its way to some sort of conclusion.

All of this does little to further the notion of science as a wholly noble pursuit, though there are of course many scientists doing great work with the aim of helping humanity. Money complicates everything, and the thought of avaristic pursuit of wealth in tandem with the development of technologies that can reshape our bodies and our world should be enough to give us pause.