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.
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.
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 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.