Experts are expecting overseas competition in an industry race to patent medical marijuana products ahead of next year’s cannabis referendum.
But a legislative “road block” could hamstring big business.
Though New Zealand’s medical marijuana industry is in its infancy, a UK company has already filed 14 patents that would give them a lock on the use of cannabidiol (CBD) to treat a wide range of diseases and disorders.
While some overseas pharmaceutical giants have successfully patented medicines containing cannabis in New Zealand as early as 2000, there is only one patent containing the word ‘cannabis’ that has been granted, and only six filed.
Far more patents have been filed containing CBD, a substance found in cannabis that the Ministry of Health has said has potential therapeutic value, with little or no psychoactive properties.
UK company GW Pharma and its subsidiary GW Research have the most granted patents filed for cannabis-derived products in New Zealand. They have filed seven more that would give them the exclusive rights to CBD treatments for epilepsy, cancer, degenerative skeletal muscular diseases and mental disorders.
Marijuana Industry Group, executive director Kristi Kelly said the race to patent technology in the marijuana industry was heating up.
“Internationally the conversation around cannabis is evolving very rapidly and it would be shocking if people were pursuing patents and didn’t look to secure the IP in other countries as well.
“There is somebody that – as I understand it – has secured the patent for pretty much every permutation of cannabinoid that could potentially exist in a plant.”
Victoria University of Wellington law professor Graeme Austin said a clause within New Zealand patent law could be a “potential roadblock” to the overseas companies seeking to patent some of their inventions in New Zealand.
“New Zealand has a morality exception … the IPONZ Guidelines indicate that morality will be tested against ‘the culture inherent in New Zealand society as a whole or a significant section of the community.’
“Given the high levels of cannabis use here, it will be interesting to see what a court makes of this.”
A spokesman from the Intellectual Property Office of New Zealand said it has no policies specific to the registration of cannabis products or cannabis-related technologies.
“This is similar to IP legislation not regulating medicines, firearms, gambling, alcohol and cigarettes.”
Market research from medicinal cannabis company Helius estimated a national market worth $1 billion could develop in New Zealand.
Kelly said this would be equivalent to the Colorado market in 2014, the first year recreational cannabis was available for purchase.
Hikurangi Cannabis Company was New Zealand’s first company to be granted a licence to cultivate medicinal cannabis and import seeds from overseas.
Chief executive Manu Caddie said as the company developed its own cultivars it would protect those through “plant variety rights and other legal and trade mechanisms”.