U.S. Patent No. 6,630,507 to Methods of Using Marijuana

Does U.S. Patent No. 6,630,507 Give the Government Ownership of Marijuana?

No.  U.S. Patent No. 6,630,507 does not give the government ownership of the marijuana plant.  The claims in the patent define methods of using certain non-psychoactive cannabinoid compounds for treating a list of diseases caused by oxidative stress.

U.S. Patent No. 6,630,507 is limited to methods of using a certain class of isolated cannabinoid compounds—it does NOT claim the plant (or any compounds in the plant) per se.

Marijuana Technology and Marijuana Patents

I recently worked on a project having to do with a new marijuana technology.  During the project, I became interested in whether entrepreneurs had begun mining the marijuana patent landscape.  I asked Google.  When I searched for “marijuana patents,” the most popular result had to do with the U.S. Government (the “government”) owning marijuana by virtue of a U.S. Patent No. 6,630,507.  This notion appears to have many activist groups upset.  Those groups believe that the government is limiting their use of marijuana through patent enforcement.  Is this possible?

No.  The government does not “own marijuana” for several reasons.

The marijuana plant is not patentable because it has been in the public domain for centuries.

The marijuana plant is not patentable because it has been in the public domain for centuries.

Products of Nature are Not Patentable

First, marijuana is a natural product.  It has been around forever.  But under US patent law, only new things can be patented.  Since marijuana is not new, it cannot be patented.  Naturally occurring substances like marijuana are in the public domain.  I recently looked into a similar uprising about fennel, which is also in the public domain.  Things in the public domain belong to the public without any patent-related royalties or exclusivity.  From the standpoint of patent law, we all own marijuana communally.

U.S. Patent No. 6,630,507 Only Claims Methods of Use

Second, every claim in U.S. Patent No. 6,630,507 defines a method of use.  Not a compound.  Not a composition of matter.  The government does not own the patent rights to marijuana per se.  It owns the rights to methods of using certain cannabinoids for treating oxidative stress.  The government could prevent another entity for methodically using certain cannabinoids for the purpose of treating a disease caused by oxidative stress.

Although marijuana (the plant) is not patentable, various marijuana technologies can be patented.  In the case of U.S. Patent No. 6,630,507, the inventor patented a method of using certain (isolated) cannabinoids for a specific medical treatment.

The claimed methods are limited to treating certain diseases

According to U.S. Patent No. 6,630,507, the cannabinoids used in the claimed method are found to have particular application as neuroprotectants, for example in limiting neurological damage following ischemic insults, such as stroke and trauma, or in the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and HIV dementia.

Notably, about 1 hour ago, the Huffington Post ran a story about an “Ohio Mother Moving to Colorado to Treat Daughter’s Epilepsy With Cannabidiol Oil.”  That particular use could arguably fall within the claims of the patent.  The isolated oil seems to be within the scope of the nonpsychoactive compounds identified in the patent.  Plus, treating epilepsy seems to be within the scope of the methods of treating ” neurological damage following ischemic insults, such as stroke and trauma, or in the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases.”

On the one hand, folks will probably get bent out of shape if the government changes the mother a royalty on using the isolated oil to treat her daugter’s epilepsy.  On the other hand, the inventors of that patent made that treatment an option and arguably deserve a royalty for their contribution.

The U.S. Patent System does not offer a route to "own" marijuana because that plant is in the public domain

The U.S. Patent System does not offer a route to “own” marijuana because that plant is in the public domain

The Claimed Methods are Limited to Administering NonPsychoactive Cannabinoids.

The claimed methods use a class of cannabinoid compounds that avoid the “high” traditionally experienced by marijuana users.  In particular, “Nonpsychoactive cannabinoids, such as cannabidiol, are particularly advantageous to use because they avoid toxicity that is encountered with psychoactive cannabinoids at high doses useful in the method of the present invention.”

The patent further distinguishes the cannabiniods used in its methods from other cannabinoids that produce “undesired psychotropic side effects.”  The invention appears limited to methods of treating oxidative stress with a subset of such drugs are “substantially free of psychoactive or psychotoxic effects.”  As a back of the envelope test, a marijuana user should could determine that she is not infringing on the 6,630,507 patent any time she experiences “psychoactive” properties.

Going back to the example of the Ohio mom from the Huffington Post article: from the standpoint of patent law the government would seem to have a better case for preventing the girl from using isolated nonpsychoactive cannabidiol than using naturally occurring marijuana for the same purpose.  Part of the government’s invention seems to be separating the therapeutic (neuroprotective) properties from the unwanted psychoactive properties found in the natural product.

U.S. Patent No. 6,630,507 has 26 method claims.

Claim 1 is probably the broadest claim.   It recites:

A method of treating diseases caused by oxidative stress, comprising administering a therapeutically effective amount of a cannabinoid that has substantially no binding to the NMDA receptor to a subject who has a disease caused by oxidative stress.

This is a method of use claim.   The government does not own marijuana.  Rather, the government owns the rights to a method of using a particular group of cannabinoid molecules to treat “oxidative stress.”  Oxidative stress is defined in the specification.  The group of cannabinoid molecules is limited to those having “substantially no binding to the NMDA receptor.”

Stop Blaming Patent Law for Marijuana Restrictions

The fact that the government does not “own” marijuana by virtue of s U.S. Patent No. 6,630,507 does not preclude the government from prohibiting people from using marijuana.  The last time I checked, using marijuana is a federal crime under a variety of drug laws.  Nevertheless, those federal statutes have nothing to do with the patent laws.  Please, do not blame patent law for this one.

13 Responses to “U.S. Patent No. 6,630,507 to Methods of Using Marijuana”

  1. Joel Munson says:

    Thanks for the clarification. About time someone did a writeup on this.

  2. Rick Forbes says:

    Marijuana is not a drug or a variety of plants, it’s only a slang term like weed or pot. If you want to taken seriously as a scientist or even as a journalist you should avoid using slang terms and instead use the real scientific names. The drugs found in cannabis resins are called cannabiniods and the plants belong to the cannabis genus. In reality there is no such thing as a marijuana plant that is only a popular myth perpetuated by those that would like to confuse the discussion around the legitimate medicinal uses of cannabinoids.

    • Andrew Chadeayne says:

      Thanks for your comments Rick. This is very helpful. I was trying to use language that was consistent with the articles that I was referencing. But, I completely agree with you, referring to the scientific name of the plant the the molecules in the plant would be better. Thanks again for reading and commenting.

  3. Bryan C says:

    I think the restriction on patenting the plant as a whole is the reason behind the illegality. If marijuana/hemp/cannabis were to become legal then the pharmaceutical industry, the cotton industry, the law enforcement industry, the oil industry, even perhaps weapon manufacturers (drug wars) would lose profit. (And probably many other major corporate powers)

  4. matt says:

    Plants are patentable when certain genetic modifications are implemented. Monsanto, Cargill and other agriculture companies have destroyed many small businesses and farmers by claiming theft of their GM property.

  5. Bailey says:

    While some individual activists no doubt do think the U.S. uses patent laws to manipulate marijuana enforcement, most groups don’t. Organizations concerned with marijuana politics bring this patent up most often to point out the hypocrisy of marijuana’s federal scheduling which states it has no accepted medical use in the U.S. In fact, cannabis has been part of holistic health recommendations at local, state, and federal levels for decades.

    Again, individuals might be concerned about patents as a mechanism for enforcement, most serious reform groups aren’t.

    • Derek says:

      There is definitely hypocracy being exercised by the Federal government. Your statement of support for cannabis at the federal level is not accurate.

      The local and state support owes its credit to the people. Especially those who have been incarcerated for possession of minimal amounts. The only reason it’s reached the level of current understanding is because of how many people kept cultivating and sharing their knowledge, even though it’s illegal.

      The inaccuracy of your statement is simply because the federal gov still maintains that “cannabis is a sched 1 narcotic with no approved medicinal values.” For the same gov to:

      #1 own a patent on the (highly successful) application of cannabidiol

      #2 allow corporations to own patents on the medical applications/processes of cannabis

      is EXTREMELY hypocritical and YES, each citizen SHOULD be upset about that! According to them, it’s illegal for us, but if profits are involved its okay for them? WRONG!

      I do agree with most of your other statements in that it’s not the most alarming priority. But it is something to keep in mind. What is being attempted is the establishment of precedent by the Gov & pharmaceutical companies. Their goal, illustrated by their actions is to own the applications of medicinal cannabis.

      As highlighted by the author, parents who began successfully treating their children’s seizures and epilepsy with high CBD strains are inadvertently using gov applications. Here’s the problem: Charlotte’s Web, the strain created by “real people” through selective breeding practices had nothing to do with the gov. They did not create that strain, the people did. The gov just jumped in and took credit for a natural application that had already been used prior.

      That is the problem, aside from the hypocracy of it. And if people wish to continue to have rightful access, these issues must be kept on the forefront before all access is patented away to the corporations.

      To the author:
      Great concise write-up, thank you. I came across this while researching info related to this patent issue.

      • AugustBrowne says:

        Derek-I think your point is extremely relevant-this is what i wrote further in the thread below which I believe is germane—”Can someone help me here? So lemme get this straight-the Us Gov owns a patent on the APPLICATION OR USE of 26 discrete cannabinoids for specific illness. So does that not create a stranglehold on their use by smaller businesses, competitors etc etc? and essentially does that not mean they own those cannabinoids by default, in the sense that NOONE else can use them for any of the specific maladies that everyone is beginning to understand they can be used for…what is the essential— difference? If i patent “using” a hammer for nailing a nail, but not the hammer itself then am I not essentially destroying everyones ability to use the hammer for building without paying me? Is this not the equivalent?—–sooo helep me out Derek-is this practice common in patent law–am I naive in this regard-say for how aspirin or birth control may have been patented? IS the US gov attempting to set a precedent-on a side note but related-the company that has been given exclusive rights to this patent by the gov-kannalife-has just been “bequethed” the largest plant collection in the country–here is the report WEST HILLS, N.Y., Dec. 20, 2013 – KannaLife Sciences, Inc. (“KannaLife”) announces that it has entered into a Materials Transfer and Testing Agreement with the Natural Product Discovery Institute (NPDI), a division of the Baruch S. Blumberg Institute (BSBI), to provide KannaLife with access to a collection of more than 100,000 extracts from plants, fungi, and bacteria, previously owned by Merck and donated to the Institute in 2011. The NPDI natural products library is regarded as one of the best collections of screen ready druggable libraries made from living organisms.

        “Signing the MTA with the Institute is an outstanding opportunity for KannaLife to access targeted plant species for the identification of novel phytochemicals to treat the diseases of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) and Hepatic Encephalopathy (HE). It fits in with our business plan to broaden the range of plant sources for addressing unmet medical needs in the areas of neuroprotection, neurogenesis, and oxidative stress. We are grateful for this excellent opportunity to work with a world class natural products discovery team at the Institute,” stated William Kinney, CSO of KannaLife Sciences, Inc.—–so am i being paranoid or is the “precedent” idea actually linked to research in numerous indegenous plants and their applications-and consequently the control of those “applications”???

  6. Steve Weber says:

    The last time I checked, it was “illegal” to grow high-CBD–lowTHC marijuana EVEN FOR THE EXCLUSIVE PURPOSE OF MANUFACTURING “HEMP MEDICINE”.

    This is because “hemp” is perceived as a threat by many industrial billionaires, who fear not the “psychoactive” component of marijuana (there is none in CBD), but rather the “industrial versatility” of the plant as a competitor of their industries. Therein lies the basis of U.S. based cannabidiol medicine manufacturers having to import the hemp from abroad at enormously higher prices (due to the tariffs), and having to pass that higher cost on to the consumer.

    The blurring of distinction between THC and CBD in the illegalization of marijuana, even when grown for the purpose of using it medicinally AND “safely” is, in my opinion, a powerful tool that the industrial bureaucrats are using to keep their gravy train running, furthering their agenda.

  7. Constant says:

    KannaLife Sciences Inc. was given an exclusive license by the US Dept. of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health on November of 2011 to US Patent 6630507 “Cannabinoids as Antioxidants and Neuroprotectants”. I just saw Dr. Sanjay Gupta’s series WEED 2 on CNN and there was no mention of this at all. http://www.kannalife.com

  8. AugustBrowne says:

    Can someone help me here? So lemme get this straight-the Us Gov owns a patent on the APPLICATION OR USE of 26 discrete cannabinoids for specific illness. So does that not create a stranglehold on their use by smaller businesses, competitors etc etc? and essentially does that not mean they own those cannabinoids by default, in the sense that NOONE else can use them for any of the specific maladies that everyone is beginning to understand they can be used for…what is the essential difference? If i patent “using” a hammer for nailing a nail, but not the hammer itself then am I not essentially destroying everyones ability to use the hammer for building without paying me? Is this not the equivalent?

  9. Charlie says:

    Although this contained some good information, to suggest that we “don’t blame patent law” is ludicrous. What the government owns is a blanket patent on the use of CBD’s for neuroprotective and antioxident treatments. The only medicinal benefits of CBD’s are neuroprotective and antioxident. They effectively patented cannabis / CBD for medicinal purposes across the board without having to patent the plant.

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