Worldwide CRISPR patent landscape shows strong geographical biases

by Agnès E. Ricroch, Jacqueline Martin-Laffon & Marcel Kuntz. Nature Biotechnology. VOL 37. JUNE 2019. 601–621, DOI 10.1038/s41587-019-0138-7

This landscape of CRISPR patenting shows that the technology is constantly being improved and that there is a diversity of potential sectors of application (medical, industrial, agriculture), of actors (both public and private) and a novel geopolitical balance of forces in this crucial new biotechnological field. Although laboratories in the USA played a pioneer role in the original invention, and USA remains a leader in technical improvements and in the medically applied sector, China is now taking the lead in the industrial and agricultural applied sectors and in the total number of patents per year. Strikingly, in all sectors, the number of CRISPR patents originating from Europe trails far behind the USA and China. Korea and Japan are next in this ranking.

CRISPR patents were originally filed by 28 countries. USA and China are clearly the leaders with 872 and 858 patents, respectively. See graph below.

The USA had an early leadership, as expected, but that the patenting rate from China is steadily increasing. For this criterion, China has taken the lead over the USA in 2016. Year 2017 was not included since this data it is not fully available in all cases.
Many patents describe technical improvements at large of the CRISPR system, which can potentially be used for many practical purposes. Thus, such patents were classed in a specific “technical improvements” category, which contains 942 out of the 2072 patent families. A second important category relates directly to medical purposes. Other patents describe industrial applications or agricultural applications; the latter can be subdivided as either related to plants or farm animals/aquaculture. 

See graphs in our article:

Number of patent families per country related to the ‘technical improvement’ category.
Number of patent families per country directly related to ‘medical applications’.

Number of patent families per country related to ‘industrial applications’.

Number of patent families per country related to ‘agricultural applications’.
Patents are separated in ‘plant’, ‘farm animal’ and ‘aquaculture’ categories.

An overwhelming Chinese patent owners are Chinese, while the ratio between ‘resident’ and ‘non-resident’ are about equal for EPO (EU) and USPTO (USA). China has taken the lead over the USA in terms of patents per year. This can be explained by the massive investment in biotechnology in China. An example (in the agricultural field) of a technical incentive for China’s investment could be the national importance of pig farming and rice cultivation, and the fact that they are threatened by diseases and pests.

This compilation and classification of CRISPR-type gene editing patents worldwide shows an impressive stream of highly diverse applications and an unexpected switch in the balance of forces in favor of China. It would be a delusion not to consider that the GMO bans in Europe have not had a strong negative impact on the future of biotechnology in this continent (including in relation to health aspects).