Of Molecules & Medicine: Medicinal Cannabis Patent Filings At The EPO Reach New Highs

Publication Date13 May 2020
AuthorMr David Hammond
SubjectIntellectual Property, Patent
Law FirmHaseltine Lake Kempner LLP

With a renewed scientific interest in the medicinal properties of cannabis in recent years, there has been a sharp rise in the number of patent applications filed at the European Patent Office which are directed to inventions in this field. We look at the background to these increased patent filings, and the opportunities that exist for creating strong patent portfolios in this growing space.

Cannabis sativa has been cultivated across the world for thousands of years, with the fibres of some strains (hemp) finding use in textiles, polymer composites and biofuel, while other strains are of course known for their psychoactive properties. Cannabis as a medicinal herbal product has existed for hundreds of years in traditional Indian and Chinese medicines, and was even briefly used for medicinal use in the UK in the 19th century for treating rheumatic pain and convulsions, for example. However, with difficulties in controlling dosages, and the rise in injectable painkillers, its use declined.

Cannabis was first criminalised in the UK in 1928, and its recreational use remains so according to the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. However, there has been a new focus on its medicinal properties in recent years, particularly so since the World Health Organisation suggested in 2018 that certain cannabis-derived products should be considered as medicines. Medical use of cannabis in the UK has been legal since November 2018, though its use is strictly controlled and it can only be prescribed by specialist consultants. Currently, the only approved cannabis-derived medicine is Sativex' for treating spasticity caused by multiple sclerosis.

Over 500 chemical compounds have been identified as being unique to cannabis, including many cannabinoids, terpenes and alkaloids. It is well known that the psychoactive properties of cannabis are due to Δ-9-tetrahydrocannabinol ("THC"), and there is a mounting body of evidence that the medicinal properties are due to the structurally similar cannabidiol ("CBD"). CBD oil containing less than 0.2% THC is legal for sale and use in the UK without prescription, and the CBD product Epidyolex' from GW Pharma received a marketing authorisation from the European Medicines Agency in September 2019 for treating Lennox-Gastaut syndrome or Dravet syndrome, rare types of epilepsy.

The European Patent Convention prohibits patents being granted for inventions that are morally questionable, but not merely because the exploitation of such inventions would be...

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