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Recent decisions by patent offices in the USA and Europe concerning the revolutionary gene-editing technology, CRISPR/Cas9, have shed light on the importance — and puzzles — of one particular area of patent law: “nonobviousness”, as it known in the USA, or, in Europe, the “inventive step”. Patent law does not always neatly align itself with the realities of biological research. But these competing decisions from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and the European Patent Office have put those differences on parade. Unpacking these standards for CRISPR tell us a lot about how advances in biology are actually made — and how they are not.