The Cannabis Industry Is Growing Up: Time to Think About Patents for Specific Strains

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The Cannabis Industry Is Growing Up: Time to Think About Patents for Specific Strains

9 November 2016
 Categories: Law, Blog


Are you just getting started in the burgeoning cannabis industry? If so, you need to start paying attention to patent law because that could become the key to remaining competitive within the industry. This is what you need to know.

How can you patent a product of nature?

You can't patent a natural creation, which means that nobody can put a patent on Cannabis sativa, the ordinary marijuana plant. However, individual strains of marijuana, which have been carefully cultivated through selective breeding and genetic engineering in order to obtain specific properties, are no longer considered natural. That makes them eligible for a patent.

There have already been some forward thinkers in the market who are turning their attention to this important part of the law. While the government has already issued patents on specific compounds derived from cannabis, a patent issued in 2016 was the first to cover a specific strain of the plant. The patent essentially recognized that there was a specific method for the breeding of the specialty strain along with a specific chemical profile measured through things like its THC (the main psychoactive chemical) and terpenes (which give strains their distinctive odors).

Why is patenting products and strains of marijuana so important?

The growing evidence indicates that cannabis has a broad range of both recreational and medicinal purposes—and growers are responding by breeding strains that are more effective for those specific medical or recreational needs.

Small start-ups and independent growers may invest a great deal of time, effort, and money into finding just the right strain for a specific group of clients. Ultimately, the only way to protect that investment and to keep it out of the hands of larger corporations that might want to market it themselves is to put those specialized strains under the protection of a patent. Otherwise, a small company could find that a strain they've invested years of labor creating something that is now being reproduced by a big lab, undercutting their prices, and putting them out of business.

Even worse, small growers could find themselves unable to market their own designer brand of cannabis if another company comes along and snatches up the patent on a particular strain. Patents are typically awarded on a "first come-first serve" basis—so a company that isn't keeping intellectual property rights in mind when growing their cannabis strains could be at a significant disadvantage if they come up against a less ethical company that doesn't mind claiming another's work.

As cannabis use becomes more mainstream, the value of individual strains is likely to increase, particularly among medical users. If you're an independent grower and you're investing a significant amount of effort and time into cultivating a particular strain of cannabis, talk to a patent attorney like those at Lingbeck Law Office about what steps you need to take to protect your product from copycats.