For any company in any industry, having the protection of intellectual property (IP) is crucial for a business to maintain a competitive edge. And for companies within the medical cannabis realm, such IP protection is just as important.
Given that the cannabis industry is expected to grow to $66.3 billion by 2025, the need to protect intellectual property within the medical cannabis space is essential.  That’s why patents are so important for medical cannabis innovators.
A patent grants a property right to an inventor. That means no one else can develop or sell a particular invention. Within the medical cannabis industry, the following patents can be used to protect intellectual property.
Thanks to the Plant Patent Act of 1930, patents obtained on plants were legalized. Before this act came to be, plants could not be protected by patents because they were considered natural products. Once the Plant Patent Act of 1930 passed, asexually reproduced plants — those that are developed from other plants without the use of seeds — could be patented. These patents can also be granted for mutants, hybrids, or modified plants.
Plant patents can play a key role in protecting specific medical cannabis cultivars/chemovars. In the US, 30 cannabis plant patents have been filed.  The first was granted in 2016 to Kubby Patent and Licenses LLC under US Plant Patent USPP27475 for a cannabis plant called “Ecuadorian Sativa.” And more recently, US Plant Patent USPP31535 was granted to Biotech Institute LLC for “Lemon Crush OG.”
Plant Variety Protection Rights (PVPR) are also available for distinct and stable varieties (including seeds). Across the world, over 400 PVPR applications have been filed for cannabis. Most are from the European Union; the US only allows PVPR for hemp as of 2019. 
Utility patents are far more popular for protection within the medical cannabis space than any other type. They can be used to protect extraction or synthesis methods and new formulations such as those that contain specific terpene and cannabinoid combinations. Utility patents are also often filed to protect compositions, processing, and different devices.
Utility patents are granted by a state to a patent owner and prevent others from advertising and selling a technology that’s already been claimed in the granted patent for a specific timeframe.
For medical cannabis, utility patents can be characterized as upstream, midstream, or downstream depending on their position along the supply chain.  Upstream cannabis patents, of which there are several hundred, include pathogen control techniques, cultivation methods, harvesting equipment, and genetic engineering technologies. Midstream cannabis patents center on cannabis extraction and purification; patented techniques involving supercritical gas extraction are common. Downstream cannabis patents number over 2,000 and protect products formulated for specific purposes. Examples include US10543190B2, a “suppository composition comprising cannabinoids” designed for patients unable to swallow. 
Another patent protection in the cannabis sphere are design patents, which are implemented to protect product design. These types of patents can prove useful in the cannabis industry to protect ornamentation such as the design of pipes, vaporizers, tinctures, and cannabis-related designs.
Design patents are typically shorter term than utility patents. That said, design patents are cheaper to maintain compared to utility patents because the application process is more affordable and there are no maintenance fees required. Medical cannabis inventors generally focus on plant and utility patents given emphasis on product functionality over ornamentation.
Image source: NickyPe from Pixabay
- Wyse J, Luria G. Trends in intellectual property rights protection for medical cannabis and related products. Journal of Cannabis Research. 2021;3(1).