Patent war looms as cannabis legalisation spreads

Published: 22-Oct-2018

Large food and beverage companies are falling behind in innovations for cannabis-infused beverages and edibles

The recent legalisation of recreational marijuana use in Canada broadly indicates a move towards legalisation, opening up a brand new multi-billion dollar market.

Currently, 22 states in the US have legalised marijuana for medicinal use, with nine states and the District of Columbia having legalised marijuana for both recreational and medicinal use. Uruguay became the first country to fully legalise marijuana 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 launched its Innovation in Cannabis Report. Based on PatSnap’s global R&D dataset, the 20-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 flavouring 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 5 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 F&B industry may be lacking until full US federal legalisation comes. In the mean-time, there will be some uncertainty in how patents could be protected in a US federal court.

Paul Bremner, data analyst at PatSnap and author of the report, said: “The legalisation 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: “The present low-levels of patenting in the area of cannabis food and drink, and cannabis infused edibles, could point to a looming patent war, with legalisation triggering a swarm of patent applications.”

The 10 companies most actively patenting in this technology area includes 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 food and beverage (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 flavouring 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.

Bremner said: “The confidence of companies in the F&B industry may be lacking until full US federal legalisation comes – in the mean-time, there will be some uncertainty over how patents could be protected in a US federal court. 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.

PatSnap’s Cannabis Compounds in Edibles and Beverages Innovation Report is available for download, offering an analysis of patent data to uncover trends, breakthroughs and key companies innovating in this space.

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