When most people think of patented technologies, they think of cell phones, computers, and pharmaceuticals. What entrepreneurs in the cannabis industry may not know is that cannabis and cannabis-related products are also patentable. Patents are important for any business, but are particularly important for an emerging industry such as the cannabis industry. The evolving legal and regulatory framework in the industry and the development of new technologies means that those businesses taking early steps to protect their intellectual property are likely to be at a competitive advantage as the industry matures and consolidates.
How do patents fit into the current state and federal cannabis regulations?
Currently, 29 U.S. states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical marijuana and eight states also permit recreational use. Under federal law, cannabis remains a Schedule I controlled substance under the Controlled Substances Act meaning that cannabis possession is illegal. However, the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), the federal agency responsible for granting patents, has traditionally taken a hands-off approach to barring particular kinds of inventions from patentability. The only kinds of inventions that are legally not patentable are inventions covering human life forms or whose sole purpose is use in atomic weapons. Otherwise, assuming that a patent application covering cannabis or cannabis-related products meets the legal standards for patentability, explained in more detail below, the USPTO presently grants patents to cannabis and cannabis-related inventions.