The COVID-19 Pandemic in the World of intellectual property


The COVID-19 Pandemic in the World of intellectual property

David Salem[1], Steven Lam[2] and Charles Goyer [3]
Lawyers, Patent and Trademark Agents

With the emergence of a second novel zoonotic virus from the same viral family, SARS-CoV-2 (i.e., the virus that causes COVID-19), a swift wave of vaccines and therapeutic research is occurring. In November 2002, we saw the first outbreak of SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome), an epidemic striking mostly China and surrounding countries. Prior to this eruption, very little was known about this family of crown-shaped RNA viruses, appropriately named Coronaviridae. Roughly 8,000 cases of SARS-CoV were reported worldwide, with a case fatality of 10%, and lasting until mid-late 2004[4]. In the world of intellectual property (IP), the number of SARS or coronavirus-related patent applications surged in 2003 following the outbreak at 2232 filed applications (Figure 1; blue box). Coinciding with the research being carried out on the virus, a significant animal reservoir of the virus was discovered. Coronavirus-infected bats were the likely culprit of this epidemic, with this virus being propagated by civet cats that feed on these bats, frequently sold in markets. Following the isolation and sequencing of SARS-CoV over the next few years, its life cycle, the immunological response to the viral infection as well as potential vaccines were heavily studied, and the results published. In 2012, a second coronavirus outbreak appeared, this time in the Middle East, and accompanied again, by a marked increase in filed patent applications from 2013-2015 (Figure 1; yellow box). There were only around 2,500 reported cases of MERS-CoV (Middle East respiratory syndrome – i.e., camel flu) until now since it was mainly confined to countries of the Arabian Peninsula. Luckily, because its case mortality was very high, at nearly 35%.

Figure 1: Coronavirus-related Patent Applications since 1990

Graphic on patent requests

This pattern of increased filings of patent applications following outbreaks, particularly coronavirus-related infections, is expected to surpass these previous trends, following the current pandemic (Figure 1; green box – projection [dotted line]). The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) recently launched a new initiative for COVID-19-related patent applications whereby the prosecution of applications by small and micro entities will be fast-tracked without additional fees[5]. Due to the 18-month confidentiality period, however, patent applications related to COVID-19 will only start to be published in mid-2021. With currently more than 8 million cases worldwide, more than 436,000 deceased and the World Health Organization (WHO) reporting record-breaking one-day increase since June 7, 2020, there has rarely been a greater need for collaboration and ingenuity. We remain hopeful and optimistic that a number of these future publications and inventions will hold the key to dethrone this virus and provide better diagnostic methods and curative and preventative therapies. 

© CIPS, 2020.

[1] David Salem is a Patent Technical Advisor for ROBIC, LLP, a firm of Lawyers, Patent and Trademark Agents.

[2] Steven Lam is a Patent Agent and Partner for ROBIC, LLP, a firm of Lawyers, Patent and Trademark Agents.

[3] Charles Goyer is a Patent Agent and Counsel for ROBIC, LLP, a firm of Lawyers, Patent and Trademark Agents.

[4] Peeri, N.C. et al. The SARS, MERS and novel coronavirus (COVID-19) epidemics, the newest and biggest global health threats: what lessons have we learned? International Journal of Epidemiology 2020.

[5] Andrei Iancu (2020). COVID-19 Prioritized Examination Pilot Program, Federal register. Retrieved on May 25 2020 from :