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Legalized Cannabis Spurs Rush to the Canadian Patent Office
Keeping Up with Cannabis

Canada’s legalization of cannabis for recreational purposes, in October of 2018, spurred a significant increase in Canadian patent application filings for a wide variety of cannabis-related technologies.

Searches conducted on the Canadian Patent Database for applications containing the words “cannabis” or “marijuana” reveals an interesting pattern of such patent applications filed in Canada, corresponding to significant dates in Canada’s history of cannabis legalization. As shown in the graph below, the number of patent applications relating to cannabis filed in Canada began to steadily increase after 2001, when medical cannabis became legal in Canada. Unsurprisingly, a cursory review of the patent applications filed in the early 2000s shows that the majority of these patent applications related to the pharmaceutical application of cannabis to treat various medical conditions.

The present Liberal government, headed by Justin Trudeau, was first elected in October 2015. Throughout the 2015 election campaign, a key promise of the Justin Trudeau Liberal party platform was to legalize marijuana for recreational purposes. Interestingly, the graph shows that a large increase in cannabis-related patent filings occurred in 2015, and that the number of cannabis patent applications has sharply risen in the years between 2015 and 2017, with a peak number of 290 patent applications having been filed in 2017.

It should be noted that the number of patent applications filed in the years 2018 and 2019 is based on the partial data that is presently available to the public. Under Canada’s patent legislation, patent applications are typically published 18 months after the filing date, unless the applicant requests early publication. As the data shown in the graph was obtained on January 10, 2020, only the applications filed between January 1 and July 10, 2018, and applications filed later in 2018 that were published early, are reflected in the graph. The available data shows that 182 applications were filed in 2018, including 34 applications that were filed after July 10, 2018 and were therefore published early. An extrapolation of the existing data shows that the total number of applications filed in 2018 may have been approximately 282, suggesting that the number of patent application filings in 2018 will continue to follow the trend of increased patent application filings related to cannabis that is reflected in the graph from 2015 - 2017. Similarly, only those applications filed in 2019 that were published early are presently available to the public, and we won’t know how many Canadian cannabis-related patent applications were filed in 2019 until mid-2021. However, with the recent legalization of cannabis-infused edibles and topicals on October 17, 2019, which significantly expands the range of cannabis products that can be sold in Canada, we anticipate that the number cannabis-related patent filings will continue to grow. 

While most applications filed prior to 2015 relate primarily to pharmaceuticals or drug testing technologies, there is a greater variety in the subject matter of cannabis-related patent applications filed in 2015 or later. Patent applications filed during the post-2015 period still include those relating to the pharmaceutical industry or drug testing, but also include technologies ranging from cultivation and processing of cannabis plants, to further processing of cannabis to create a wide variety of consumer products, as well as technologies related to the consumption of cannabis by various different methods, including devices for smoking and vaporizing cannabis and cannabis extracts or concentrates, and various tools used in the preparation of cannabis for consumption. As a result of the recent legalization of cannabis edible and topical products in October 2019, the applications filed in 2018 and 2019 which are presently available to the public notably also include applications relating to cannabis-infused products, including food and beverage products and topicals.

Based on the available data, it appears the legalization of cannabis for recreational purposes in Canada has spawned technological innovation in a wide number of related industries, and that entrepreneurs and corporations operating in this space are eager to obtain patent protection for their innovations. We can expect domestic and foreign businesses in the cannabis industry will continue to seek patent protection in Canada for their innovations well into the future, and those who are actively pursuing patent protection in Canada today may reap the benefits of holding proprietary rights in their cannabis-related innovations for years to come.

For further information on cannabis-related patent applications please contact Field Law’s Cannabis Industry Group or Charlene Lipchen at 403-260-8533.