Patent war looms as cannabis legalisation spreads

Written by Nick Boulton

Large food & beverage companies falling behind in innovation in cannabis-infused beverages and edibles

London, United Kingdom, 18 October 2018 – The recent legalization of recreational cannabis use in Canada indicates a broader trend of a move towards legalization, opening up a brand new multi-billion-dollar market. Currently, 22 states in the USA have legalized cannabis for medicinal use, with nine states and the District of Columbia having legalized cannabis for both recreational and medicinal use. Uruguay became the first country to fully legalize cannabis in 2013.

Legal US cannabis sales are expected to grow from almost $10 billion in 2018, to nearly $23 billion in 2025.Looking at Intellectual Property (IP) data in the cannabis food and drink area can reveal signals about how this market, its players and their technologies are evolving.

PatSnap, the world’s leading provider of research and development (R&D) analytics, has today launched its Innovation in Cannabis Report. Based on PatSnap’s global R&D dataset, the 17-page report has uncovered major trends relating to the state of innovation in cannabis compounds in edibles and beverages, finding amongst other things, that chemical, fragrance and flavoring companies are leading the way in patenting innovation using cannabis compounds.

The report found that patenting activity for cannabis food and drink has seen a large increase in global activity in the last five years, with 242 simple patent families filed in 2015, up from only 144 simple patent families filed in 2012.

Despite this increase in patenting activity, it is clear from this analysis that there is a relative lack of patenting activity in this area – the confidence of companies in the food & beverage (F&B) industry may be lacking until full US federal legalization comes.In the mean-time, there will be some uncertainty over how patents could be protected in a US federal court.

Paul Bremner, data analyst at PatSnap and author of the report, said that “the legalization of cannabis represents a once-in-a-generation opportunity for food and beverage companies to establish themselves as dominant players in one of the potentially fastest-growing sectors – edibles and beverages.” He continued: “Thepresent low-levels of patenting in the area of cannabis food and drink, and cannabis-infused edibles, could point to a looming patent war, with legalization triggering a swarm of patent applications.”

  Cannabis in food and drink Cannabis-infused edibles
No. of simple patent families 3,357 103
No. of patent publications 5,923 144
No. of granted patent families 578 25
No. of patents pending 337 28
Peak application year 2015 (293) 2015 (30)
Main company BASF Heilongjiang Academy of Sciences


The 10 companies most actively patenting in this technology area includes (in order) BASF, DuPont, Firmenich, The Wrigley Company, Hercules Powder, Royal Dutch Shell, Arkena, Kuraray, Esso and Givaudan.Not included in the list are any of the larger F&B companies one might expect to appear: PepsiCo, Coca-Cola, Nestle, General Mills, Kelloggs etc. Instead the list is populated by a mixture of chemical companies (BASF &Arkema) and fragrance and flavoring companies (Firmenich&Givaudan), meaning there could be potential for the major F&B companies to partner with these companies to enter this market.

The report’s findings also point to two areas where the biggest opportunities for those filing cannabis patents lay. First, specific cannabinoid and terpene profiles and formulations, and secondly, industrial scale fermentation approaches to production that can deliver specific, quality-assured cannabinoid profiles for use in food and beverages.

Mr.Bremner said that “With the changes in the law, increased patenting activity is expected as companies move to take advantage of this new market.”

This is a brief summary of findings from the full report published by PatSnap. Early protection of intellectual property rights is a critical component in any business’ efforts to secure a competitive advantage in the marketplace. To find out more, download PatSnap’s Cannabis Compounds in Edibles and Beverages Innovation Report, which analyses patent data to uncover trends, breakthroughs and key companies innovating in this space.


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Nick Boulton

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