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Richard Naiberg
Quality From Canada

Protecting Intellectual Property in Canada: A Practical Guide, Part 2

By Richard Naiberg
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Richard Naiberg

Editor’s Note: This is the second article in a series by Richard Naiberg where he discusses how cannabis businesses can protect their intellectual property in Canada. Part 1 introduced the topic and examined the use of trade secrets in business. Part 2 goes into how business owners can protect new technologies and inventions through applying for patents.


Patents: Protection For New And Inventive Technology

Patents, which are issued in accordance with Canada’s Patent Act, provide their owners with the right to have a Court prevent anyone else in Canada from making, using, selling, importing or exporting what is claimed as the patent’s invention. The owner of the patent enjoys this monopoly for a period of 20 years from the date the patent is applied for. A patent is infringed even if the infringer arrives at the invention independently, without actual copying. If a patent owner brings a lawsuit and the Court finds infringement, the Court will typically order the infringing activity to cease and require the infringer to pay the owner a suitable amount of compensation.

There are several drawbacks to applying for a patent from the point of view of the applicant.Patents are meant to protect only inventions, meaning novel, non-obvious and useful solutions to practical problems. In the cannabis field, such inventions could include engineered genetic sequences or new plant cells that lead to useful improvements in the whole plant, new cultivation processes, new methods of extraction, new methods of storage or means to enhance stability, new formulations for administration, and new uses for the plant. It would not be uncommon for a cannabis producer to hold a suite of different patents that cover a whole range of innovative technologies and innovative business methods.

Not all classes of technical innovations are protectable by patent. For example, patents are not available for a whole cannabis plant because no patents are allowed on higher, multicellular organisms. Patents are not issued for genetic sequences or cells that are the result of cross breeding. Patents are also unavailable to monopolize methods of using cannabis as a medical treatment. That said, patent agents are skilled at casting innovations in areas such as these in terms that do provide some patent rights.

To obtain a patent, the applicant hires a patent agent to prepare and submit an application to the Canadian Intellectual Property Office (CIPO). An examiner at CIPO reviews the application for compliance with the statutory requirements and enters into a correspondence with the applicant’s patent agent in a process known as a patent prosecution. Third parties also have the opportunity to oppose the grant of a patent on limited grounds. The prosecution may continue for a period of years before the application is either allowed to issue to patent, or is ultimately rejected. Separate patent applications must be filed in every country in which patent rights are sought, though there are international treaties that facilitate these separate filings and preserve early priority filing dates.there can be a significant cost in obtaining patents, particularly if patent rights are sought in multiple countries.

It is important to emphasize that if an invention had been disclosed to the public more than one year before the application for the patent is filed, a patent cannot issue. Cannabis producers must therefore ensure that disclosures of their innovative work be controlled, including when working with partners. This can typically be handled with the use of appropriate non-disclosure agreements.

The prospect of market exclusivity makes the filing of patent applications a must for cannabis businesses, including those just starting out. For a start-up, simply filing a patent application projects that the company has value and a clear vision of its business. Venture capital often seeks companies with patent applications on file because the applications can mature into assets which can be monetized either by protecting a market for the owner, or through assignment or license to others.

cannabis researchers and producers have already filed hundreds of patent applications in Canada. There are several drawbacks to applying for a patent from the point of view of the applicant. Unlike the case for a trade secret, an applicant for a patent must make full and correct disclosure of the invention and how to use it in the patent itself. This disclosure will allow competitors to understand the applicant’s technology. The public disclosure provides a blueprint for competitors to build upon the patent’s disclosure, and to design around it to avoid infringement. Also, and unlike trade secrets, patents have an expiry date after which the public is free to practice the invention. The Commissioner also has the power to issue compulsory licenses to third parties in several circumstances, including when the demand for the patented article is not being met on reasonable terms. Further, the patent right is not infringed when the patented invention is used for non-commercial or experimental purpose. Finally, there can be a significant cost in obtaining patents, particularly if patent rights are sought in multiple countries.

Disadvantages or not, cannabis researchers and producers have already filed hundreds of patent applications in Canada. These applications relate to a wide range of inventions in the cannabis field including new cannabis resins and oils, methods of producing cannabis having improved properties, specific new growing processes, new harvesting methods, new extraction techniques, new formulations for human and veterinary use as foods, medicines and supplements, new delivery devices, new purification methods, new analytical methods, and new stabilization methods. Interested companies can access these disclosures from the public record.

As cannabis companies rush to obtain patent monopolies for their technologies, minefields are created for operating companies. Cannabis producers should obtain reports on what patent applications exist and might be asserted against their operations if and when these applications mature to issuance. With that intelligence in hand, the cannabis producer can understand what threats can be safely ignored and what patents must be addressed by assignment or license, by ‘design around’ or by developing an argument as to why the patent is invalid and thus unenforceable.


Editor’s Note: In Part 3 of this series, which will be published next week, Naiberg will discuss plant breeders’ rights and protecting new plant varieties. Stay tuned for more!

european union states

The Battle Over CBD Regulation Hits Europe

By Marguerite Arnold
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european union states

With all the attention on the pending regs for the recreational industry in Canada plus the huge medical market under construction in the EU, it is easy to forget the other cannabis discussion in the room right now. Namely CBD in commercial food ingredients and supplements. Battles in the beauty space, while surfacing, are still much less avidly fought.

As a result, edible CBD is also rapidly becoming (another) big green elephant in the room. Globally. Starting with all the changing rules about mostly medical use of cannabinoids in general.

This is underway, sort of, in the United States, driven by state regulations and consumer protection initiatives, but delayed on a federal level by the fact that CBD is still scheduled, like THC, as a Schedule I drug.

In Europe, however, this is already a different animal.

The regulatory hammer also appears to be coming down in strategic country markets, with strange hybrid fights and issues emerging as a result.

For example, as cannabis crops (designed for both markets) begin to flourish in Spain buoyed by both the clubs in Barcelona and the growth of legitimate medical and other kinds of cannabis cultivation across the country – and much of that for export, authorities are cracking down on a federal level about labelling of not cannabis bound for clubs, but the CBD used in edibles.

In the last month, CBD industry blogs are reporting that the Spanish government is sending both warning letters to distributors and the police are apparently taking products off of shelves directly.

For all the direct showdowns about the cannabis plant this year, not to mention CBD, including British children ending up in hospital, this has got to make the top five list.

A Brief Modern History Of CBD Controversies On The Continent

The current complications have their roots in both the regulation of medical cannabis, health supplements and what are called “novelty” food items.

The food issue has been cooking for several years and for botanicals and additives far from cannabidiol. This year, on January 1, however, the entire EU brought in a new directive about the use of certain plants in food which seems to be affecting the edible cannabis conversation all over the continent. That said, countries are interpreting the same at different speeds and with different enthusiasm.

The EU looks poised to hop on the legalization train

Switzerland (not a member of the EU) is actually the only country on the European continent where so far, things have gone relatively smoothly. Their lack of EU membership is actually why. This also does not mean they have overcome some of the larger problems inherent in this entire discussion, but, if things go to form, it will be relatively drama free.

That is not the case in other places.

For example, at the end of 2016, British authorities made a splash about medical labelling with the Medicine and Health Care products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) also leaving the entire edibles discussion in limbo. Technically, low strength CBD can be sold in the UK but it must be labelled as a food product if not specifically made for the medical market. That flap is likely to take off again with the direct competition now of not only Tilray but Namaste and the changing scheduling of cannabis in the UK to a Schedule II in October. See the recent furore over the “unauthorized claims” supposedly made by the nascent Cannabis Trades Association in meeting, lobbying if not “working” with local authorities. The organization has literally blossomed within the last 18 months to over 300 members and 1,200 sellers in part to figure out what exactly the rules are, as authorities grapple with changing times.

tilray-logoNow jump the channel to Spain. The international focus of late has not been just the medical cannabis now sprouting in greenhouses owned by established pharmaceutical companies, or that bound for semi medical use in Barcelona, but the entire CBD edibles discussion.

Why?

On some levels, it is clearly an attempt to continue to set less than grey rules for the Spanish cannabis industry, which even in the club scene is regulating. But beyond that, this fight is altogether more complicated, and far from just regional, or even just a Spanish conversation.

European Food Regulation Meets The Cannabis Industry

CBD in edible products will, according to European regulation, make it a novel food or “additive” – namely that products containing the cannabinoid have not been used “safely”. Translated into English that crosses cultural boundaries, this definition really means that the substance in question must have been part of a regulated federal procedure – for at least 25 years in any third country. As such, it will have to be tested and regulated accordingly.In other words, until the EU can move to classify CBD as a novel food, in Spain, CBD products on the market must be labelled “external use only.”

One does not have to be an industry analyst to know this clearly excludes all parts of the cannabis plant. Everywhere. This is why the situation now unfolding in Spain is all the more worrying for the industry across Europe.

In Spain at least, the crackdown appears to be on any food item containing cannabis, which, according to European-wide regulations, has yet to be classified as a “novel food.” Namely, a food product which has not been consumed in a significant degree in the EU before May 15, 1987. See the guide for new applicants here.

In other words, until the EU can move to classify CBD as a novel food, in Spain, CBD products on the market must be labelled “external use only.”

Where Does This Leave The CBD Industry Across Europe?

As any manufacturer or vendor in any EU country could technically be required to register their new food, this means that cannabis producers and distributors in Europe need to be on their toes for the next several years as the regulatory schemata is worked out. Bottom line? Expect as much hullabaloo over this sector of the market as other places (even if over other issues).Both producers and distributors could easily face labelling problems

Here is the critical take-away. Regulation is coming to the entire industry in Europe in a way unseen in both Canada and the U.S. and from a much more granular perspective.

What “reigns in Spain” in other words right now, is a wake-up call for CBD producers across the continent, even if not involved in the medical space. Not to mention both U.S. and Canadian producers (in particular) looking for profitable market entry strategies. Labelling and standards, in other words, are clearly on the way, and beyond the drawing board, for all cannabinoids, not just those of the “medical” kind.

In the meantime, edible CBD products in Europe and in every country are ripe for the institution of new guidelines that are, as yet, formalized. Both producers and distributors, therefore, could easily face labelling problems for all their CBD products and product lines for the next several years.

extraction equipment

The Ever-Growing Importance of Protecting Cannabis Extraction Innovations

By Alison J. Baldwin, Brittany R. Butler, Ph.D., Nicole E. Grimm
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extraction equipment

With legalization of cannabis for medicinal and adult use occurring rapidly at the state level, the industry is seeing a sharp increase in innovative technologies, particularly in the area of cannabis extraction. Companies are developing novel extraction methods that are capable of not only separating and recovering high yields of specific cannabinoids, but also removing harmful chemicals (such as pesticides) from the concentrate. While some extraction methods utilize solvents, such as hydrocarbons, the industry is starting to see a shift to completely non-solvent based techniques or environmentally friendly solvents that rely on, for example, CO2, heat and pressure to create a concentrate. The resulting cannabis concentrate can then be consumed directly, or infused in edibles, vape pens, topicals and other non-plant based consumption products. With companies continually seeking to improve existing extraction equipment, methods and products, it is critical for companies working in this area to secure their niche in the industry by protecting their intellectual property (IP).

extraction equipment
Extraction can be an effective form of remediating contaminated cannabis

Comprehensive IP protection for a business can include obtaining patents for innovations, trademarks to establish brand protection of goods and services, copyrights to protect logos and original works, trade dress to protect product packaging, as well as a combination of trade secret and confidentiality agreements to protect proprietary information and company “know-how” from leaking into the hands of competitors. IP protection in the cannabis space presents unique challenges due to conflicting state and federal law, but for the most part is available to cannabis companies like any other company.

Federal trademark protection is currently one of the biggest challenges facing cannabis companies in the United States. A trademark or service mark is a word, phrase, symbol or design that distinguishes the source of goods or services of one company from another company. Registering a mark with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) provides companies with nationwide protection against another company operating in the same space from also using the mark.

As many in the industry have come to discover, the USPTO currently will not grant a trademark or service mark on cannabis goods or services. According to the USPTO, since cannabis is illegal federally, marks on cannabis goods and services cannot satisfy the lawful use in commerce requirement of the Lanham Act, the statute governing federal trademark rights. Extraction companies that only manufacture cannabis-specific equipment or use cannabis-exclusive processes will likely be unable to obtain a federal trademark registration and will need to rely on state trademark registration, which provides protection only at the state-level. However, extractors may be able to obtain a federal trademark on their extraction machines and processes that can legitimately be applied to non-cannabis plants. Likewise, companies that sell cannabis-infused edibles may be able to obtain a federal trademark on a mark for non-cannabis containing edibles if that company has such a product line.

Some extraction companies may benefit from keeping their innovations a trade secretSince the USPTO will not grant marks on cannabis goods and services, a common misconception in the industry is that the USPTO will also not grant patents on cannabis inventions. But, in fact, the USPTO will grant patents on a seemingly endless range of new and nonobvious cannabis inventions, including the plant itself. (For more information on how breeders can patent their strains, see Alison J. Baldwin et al., Protecting Cannabis – Are Plant Patents Cool Now? Snippets, Vol. 15, Issue 4, Fall 2017, at 6). Unlike the Lanham Act, the patent statute does not prohibit illegal activity and states at 35 U.S.C. § 101 that a patent may be obtained for “any new and useful process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter, or any new and useful improvement thereof.”

For inventions related to extraction equipment, extraction processes, infused products and even methods of treatment with concentrated formulations, utility patents are available to companies. Utility patents offer broad protection because all aspects related to cannabis extraction could potentially be described and claimed in the same patent. Indeed, there are already a number of granted patents and published patent applications related to cannabis extraction. Recently, U.S. Patent No. 9,730,911 (the ‘911 patent), entitled “Cannabis extracts and methods of preparing and using same” that granted to United Cannabis Corp. covers various liquid cannabinoid formulations containing very high concentrations of tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCa), tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), cannabidiol (CBD), THCa and cannabidiolic acid, THC and CBD, and CBD, cannabinol (CBN), and THC. For example, claim 1 of the ‘911 patent recites:

A liquid cannabinoid formulation, wherein at least 95% of the total cannabinoids is tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCa).Properly crafted non-disclosure agreements can help further ensure that trade secrets remain a secret indefinitely.

Although the ‘911 patent only covers the formulations, United Cannabis Corp. has filed a continuation application that published as US2017/0360745 on methods for relieving symptoms associated with a variety of illnesses by administering one or more of the cannabinoid formulations claimed in the ‘911 patent. This continuation application contains the exact same information as the ‘911 patent and is an example of how the same information can be used to seek complete protection of an invention via multiple patents.

An example of a patent application directed to solvent-based extraction methods and equipment is found in US20130079531, entitled “Process for the Rapid Extraction of Active Ingredients from Herbal Materials.” Claim 1 of the originally filed application recites:

A method for the extraction of active ingredients from herbal material comprising: (i) introducing the herbal material to a non-polar or mildly polar solvent at or below a temperature of 10 degrees centigrade and (ii) rapidly separating the herbal material from the solvent after a latency period not to exceed 15 minutes.

Claim 12, covered any equipment designed to utilize the process defined in claim 1.

Although now abandoned, the claims of this application were not necessarily limited to cannabis, as the claims were directed to extracting active ingredients from “herbal materials.”

Other patents involve non-toxic extraction methods utilizing CO2, such as Bionorica Ethics GMBH’s U.S. Patent No. 8,895,078, entitled “Method for producing an extract from cannabis plant matter, containing a tetrahydrocannabinol and a cannabidiol and cannabis extracts.” This patent covers processes for producing cannabidiol from a primary extract from industrial hemp plant material.

There have also been patents granted to cannabis-infused products, such as U.S. Patent No. 9,888,703, entitled “Method for making coffee products containing cannabis ingredients.” Claim 1 of this patent recites:

A coffee pod consisting essentially of carbon dioxide extracted THC oil from cannabis, coffee beans and maltodextrin.

Despite the USPTO’s willingness to grant cannabis patents, there is an open question currently regarding whether they can be enforced in a federal court (the only courts that have jurisdiction to hear patent cases). However, since utility patents have a 20-year term, extractors are still wise to seek patent protection of the innovations now.

Another consideration in seeking patent protection for novel extraction methods and formulations is that the information becomes public knowledge once the patent application publishes. As this space becomes increasingly crowded, the ability to obtain broader patents will decline. Therefore, some extraction companies may benefit from keeping their innovations a trade secret, which means that the secret is not known to the public, properly maintained and creates economic value by way of being a secret. Properly crafted non-disclosure agreements can help further ensure that trade secrets remain a secret indefinitely.

Regardless of the IP strategy extractors choose, IP protection should be a primary consideration for companies in the cannabis industry to ensure the strongest protection possible both now and in the future.

FDAlogo

FDA Issues Warning To CBD Companies

By Aaron G. Biros
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FDAlogo

On November 1st, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) published a press release addressing warning letters issued to four companies. The warning letters, sent to companies marketing cannabidiol (CBD) products with therapeutic claims, cites unsubstantiated claims about their products’ ability to treat or cure cancer and other diseases.

A snippet of the warning letter issued to Greenroads

According to the press release, the four companies that received warning letters are Greenroads Health, Natural Alchemist, That’s Natural! Marketing and Consulting, and Stanley Brothers Social Enterprises LLC. The press release called their marketing campaigns “deceptive” for “unproven treatments.” Here is the letter they sent to Greenroads Health.

“As part of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s ongoing efforts to protect consumers from health fraud, the agency today issued warning letters to four companies illegally selling products online that claim to prevent, diagnose, treat, or cure cancer without evidence to support these outcomes,” reads the FDA statement. “Selling these unapproved products with unsubstantiated therapeutic claims is not only a violation of the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, but also can put patients at risk as these products have not been proven to be safe or effective.”

According to the press release, the FDA has issued ninety warning letters in the past ten years, with around twelve this year, to companies making fraudulent claims about cancer therapies. Here are some examples of claims made by companies that the FDA took issue with:

  • “Combats tumor and cancer cells;”
  • “CBD makes cancer cells commit ‘suicide’ without killing other cells;”
  • “CBD … [has] anti-proliferative properties that inhibit cell division and growth in certain types of cancer, not allowing the tumor to grow;” and
  • “Non-psychoactive cannabinoids like CBD (cannabidiol) may be effective in treating tumors from cancer – including breast cancer.”

“Substances that contain components of marijuana will be treated like any other products that make unproven claims to shrink cancer tumors,” says FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, M.D. “We don’t let companies market products that deliberately prey on sick people with baseless claims that their substance can shrink or cure cancer and we’re not going to look the other way on enforcing these principles when it comes to marijuana-containing products. There are a growing number of effective therapies for many cancers. When people are allowed to illegally market agents that deliver no established benefit they may steer patients away from products that have proven, anti-tumor effects that could extend lives.”