A secretive company called BioTech Institute LLC is trying to corner the market on legal weed by becoming the Monsanto of marijuana.
Biotech Institute of Westlake California seeks to be the Monsanto of the Marijuana Industry. The Biotech firm has recently filed 3 federal patent applications with the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) that could potentially hijack intellectual property and derail a billion dollar cannabis industry at the same time. If they succeed they will control 70% of the cannabis strains in existence.
Biotech’s Patent US 9095554 was granted in 2015 as the first-ever marijuana-breeding-related patent. The summary abstract states: “The invention provides compositions and methods for the breeding, production, processing and use of specialty cannabis.” Along with its Patent US 9370164, Biotech’s rights could cover 50 to 70 percent of all strains on the market, given that most cannabis plants currently grown fall within the THC, CBD and terpene ratio specifications outlined in those patents. The third patent is currently pending, Patent US 20150366154, covers propyl and “varin” cannabinoids, which are known for their potential effectiveness in a range of therapeutic applications, including treatments for obesity, epilepsy and Parkinson’s disease.
According to GQ hese are not narrow patents on individual strains like Sour Diesel. These are utility patents, the strongest intellectual-property protection available for crops. Utility patents are so strict that almost everyone who comes in contact with the plant could be hit with a licensing fee: growers and shops, of course, but also anyone looking to breed new varieties or conduct research. Even after someone pays a royalty, they can’t use the seeds produced by the plants they grow. They can only buy more patented seeds.
Biotech is just one of many companies inundating the (USPTO) with applications listing keywords like “cannabis,” “marijuana,” “CBD” and “THC.” So far, the 400 or so patents filed over the last 15 years range from new strains and novel extracts to recipes for cannabis-infused alcohol and the use of cannabinoids for the treatment of epilepsy.
Even though the patents cannot be technically enforced as long as the federal government considers cannabis illegal investors and the like are positioning themselves for the inevitable legalization in the future.
In New Frontier Data’s Cannabis Industry Annual Report: 2017 Legal Marijuana Outlook these patents are separated into five categories: plant biology, medical/pharmaceutical applications, testing/process methods, new product formulations, and other.
No surprise applications are being filed for plant biology and pharmaceutical, but it is interesting to see a recent spike in the number of patents issued for testing/process methods and new product formulations. The increase suggests the industry is becoming more sophisticated and there is a definite increase in the recognition of the value of intellectual-property rights.
How the cannabis industry responds to the potential hijacking of its intellectual property will be crucial to it’s future. Biotech’s maneuvering in the UPTSO demands a call to action from the budding billion dollar industry. The fight is on and the battle has just begun. The cannabis industry needs to organize now to come up with a long term plan to win what will surely be a war for what doesn’t really belong to anybody. How can a biotech firm patent a naturally-occurring plant?