Cannabis Patent Trends in 2021: Big Tobacco, Big Pharma and Big Cannabis – What are they missing?

2021 has been a year to watch for cannabis. Big Tobacco is heavily interested in the industry – acquiring companies, lobbying, and investing in IP. Big Pharma is just as anticipatory of the industry and is busy securing IP and acquiring companies as well. Cannabis companies that have been around from the start like Canopy Growth and Aurora Cannabis continue to build and buy into technologies they are lacking in. What has each found interest in in 2021? 

Big Tobacco companies like Altria, maker of Marlboro cigarettes, and British American Tobacco (BAT), maker of Camel cigarettes, are focusing on tobacco alternatives that incorporate cannabinoids like vaping devices and compositions as well as oral pouches. Each has their respective subsidiaries that develop and manufacture their products. Altria’s Juul Labs and Philip Morris have shown great interest in the vaping side of cannabis, coming up with vaping technology and compositions, respectively. BAT’s Nicoventures appeared on the scene in 2019 and has focused on oral tobacco and cannabinoid pouches but has some interest in vape technology as well. RAI Strategic and R.J. Reynolds are also owned by BAT and have interests in vape technology and compositions for vaping. BAT has already faced competitors in court, fighting over vape technology patent infringement and it is likely more is to come in the near future. With Big Tobacco so interested in vape technology and tobacco alternatives, where does that leave Big Pharma? 

Not surprisingly, Big Pharma’s interests lie within therapeutics. We saw one of the largest acquisitions in cannabis to date when Jazz Pharma and GW Pharmaceuticals closed their merger in May 2021. GW Pharmaceuticals at the time, and still today, has the most comprehensive patent portfolio in cannabis for medical treatments and uses of cannabinoids, especially CBD. Janssen Pharaceutica, acquired by Johnson & Johnson, hasn’t had another patent filing in cannabis since 2018, but remains one of the sector leaders. Janssen’s focus is on cannabinoid and cannabinoid analogs for targeting cannabinoid receptors in the liver to treat non-alcoholic steatohepatitis, an advanced form of fatty liver disease, which they collaborated with Bird Rock Bio in 2017 to work on. Less known in the industry but quickly making strategic moves, Zynerba Pharmaceuticals is a sleeper to look out for in the future. Starting almost a decade after GW, Zynerba has been building an extensive portfolio for its topical CBD Zygel™ for treating Fragile X Syndrome. Its 2020 trial failed to produce expected results; however, another Pivotal Phase 3 Trial is set to begin in October 2021, and if all goes well, Zynerba will discuss approval of the medication to treat Fragile X Syndrome in children and adolescents. The failed trial shed light on a group of patients that reacted well to the treatment, each similar in that their FMR1 gene was more than 90% methylated (methylation of genes is a natural “shut off” for translating the gene). The upcoming trial will likely focus on this group of Fragile X Syndrome patients. Could Zynerba Pharmaceuticals be the next GW Pharmaceuticals? We think it is on the right track to be based on its patent and market activity. Now that we’ve seen where Big Tobacco and Big Pharma have their eyes set on, what does that leave for the pioneer cannabis companies?  

Aurora Cannabis and Canopy Growth were among the first true cannabis companies to have the spotlight, and for good reason. They both went on a buying spree for the expansion of production operations and IP to become the largest operators in North America. Though, most acquisitions have been primarily for production and footprint expansion like the recent June 2021 acquisition of Supreme by Canopy Growth to improve its premium flower offerings. Canopy Growth has taken it upon itself to develop IP and secure patent assets in nearly all categories in the Cannabis Patent Forecast® and is a leader in the space. Similarly, Aurora Cannabis has been filing patents but not as aggressively and is lagging behind tremendously. In May 2021, Aurora announced it would increase its stock offerings to look for another American acquisition (Aurora acquired Reliva in 2020 to strategically enter US markets). Aurora’s patent focus has primarily been on cannabis cultivars with some interest in cannabinoid extraction. Aurora’s next acquisition should really focus on gaining US patent assets in order to protect its markets. There are areas of white space these companies could focus on that are easily spottable with the Patent Radian interactive visual.

One area in cannabis that hasn’t received as much patent attention in 2021 is the use of cannabis products for animals. Just a handful of filings have appeared this year mainly from independent inventors but also from cannabis companies Cannabis Global, Inc. and Black Tulip Management, Inc. A second area for companies to explore is cannabis disposal. Cannabis waste can be used to generate fuel or carbon products rather easily but only a few companies have shown interest in it. A 2019 estimate for cannabis and hemp waste in North America put it at about 1 million tons of waste. There’s huge potential for waste processing in the industry. Lastly, cannabis compliance technology just hasn’t gained the attention it really deserves. That is, technology for ensuring cannabis is being delivered to correct locations without any deviations during the process. Over the last decade, only 17 patent applications have been filed in this area with 6 total patents being granted. It’s virtually untouched and ready for the taking. Who will see it through? 

These insights are some of the great offerings from using the Cannabis Patent Forecast® and included Patent Radian. Sign up today to see what’s happening in real-time so you can make strategic decisions to impact your future positively.