A spokesperson for the US Patent and Trade Office confirmed that officials are now accepting and processing patent applications for individual varieties of cannabis, along with innovative medical uses for the plant and other associated inventions."In general, the [patent] office issues both utility and plant patents to all types of plants, including cannabis and poppy, provided the applications meet and comply with the applicable patent statutes," said the spokesperson, who asked not to be named. "There are no special statutory requirements or restrictions applied to marijuana plants."
Concern is rising among legal-pot pioneers about the need to lawyer up to defend their creations from imitators and patent trolls, as well as from multinational corporations in the agriculture, tobacco and pharmaceutical industries that are thought to be watching the fast-growing industry from the sidelines, despite overt denials.
'These people aren't worried about the Department of Justice anymore. Now they're worried about Monsanto.'
Recent decades have seen an explosion of powerful strains of pot bred by small-time growers with names like Blue Dream, Northern Lights, Death Star, God's Gift, Purple Urkle, Skywalker, White Rhino, Chemdawg, and Blue Cheese.Breeders who long toiled in the shadows are now beginning to seek patents for their innovative strains the way any other horticulturalist might seek a patent for a new type of rose, green bean, or sugar beet."We're being approached by quite a few of these so-called underground breeders who have come to the surface and are now interested in patenting," Veitenheimer said. "But they understand it's only for their new varieties, which are different from anything else out there."
'These small farmers think they're going to compete against these big brands. But they're either going to have to scale up or be satisfied being the little honey stand on the side of the road.'
Some in the sector are attempting to turn the novelty requirement into an impediment for big business, or anyone else, to seek patents for existing strains of marijuana.The Open Cannabis Project is an organization that is collecting DNA samples of cannabis strains in order to publish them in a massive database. The aim is to have a large catalog that can be used to properly classify strains and prove, on a genetic basis, that a given strain was available to the public before someone tries to take out a patent on it."We're sequencing the DNA of thousands of strains of cannabis," said Mowgli Holmes, a board member of the Open Cannabis Project who has a Ph.D. in microbiology from Columbia University. "You can't use that data to patent plants. But you can use it to show that something is in the public domain."
The pot world might follow the path of other new industries, like software or semiconductors, in which an early spirit of collaboration eventually gave way to corporate secrecy.Early IT engineers from different companies used to meet up in the bar after work to swap ideas and share stories at a time when software was thought to be "unpatentable," recalled Thomas Schneck, patent attorney and owner of the firm Patent Valley.