Access to Medical Cannabis Creates Trademark Application Surge
In August 2019, Emma Matthews wrote a beautiful yet painful story of her battle to obtain cannabidiol in the UK for her 12-year-old son, Louis, who suffers from seizures. Ms. Matthews and her son have relocated to the Netherlands because, without medical cannabis, Louis has zero quality of life.
“For now, we have no choice but to settle permanently in the Netherlands because he can’t get the treatment he needs in the UK. Without it, he’d be bedridden, unable to hold a conversation and back in A&E over and over again, his life at risk and suffering unimaginable pain.”
A 2017 World Health Organisation (WHO) report found that cannabidiol could provide relief for a variety of other debilitating conditions including Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis, cancer, and diabetic complications, as well as general pain, anxiety, and depression.
At the time of writing, medicinal cannabis-based products were legal in 33 American states. However, only 12 states allow for the sale and consumption of these products without a doctor’s recommendation. Furthermore, the regulations regarding production, distribution, consumption and the conditions it can be prescribed for, vary considerably from state to state.
In the UK, medical cannabis has been technically legal since November 2018, but strictly limited. Jersey, a self-governing dependency of the United Kingdom recently granted a license for farmers to grow hemp flowers for cannabis oil. UK attorney John Binns of BCL Solicitors LLP took a look at what’s next for the UK’s cannabis laws and how they can be improved to allow for a wider medical use in the pharmaceutical market.
And very few people seem able to access the products. The bureaucracy surrounding medical cannabis in Britain is convoluted. According to Wired, the interim guidelines, devised by the Royal College of Physicians and the British Paediatric Neurology Association, were hastily devised. Because cannabis had, until recently, been categorized as a Class B drug with no clinical value, carrying out experiments on its properties was problematic.
Trademarking medical cannabis products
The pharmaceutical industry has long desired to build a trademark system for medical cannabis; however, the diversity in worldwide regulations has made this unfeasible.
Recent events point to change. Medicinal cannabis has been added as registered ‘goods’ under the Nice Classification System. Trademarks for medicinal cannabis can now be registered under Class 5 across the 85 countries that are members of the international trademark register as from January 1st 2020. Class 5 covers medicinal products and dietary supplements.
One country benefiting from this development is Denmark, which in 2018, relaxed its laws and launched a four-year pilot programme, opening the market for companies manufacturing medical cannabis products. There has been considerable interest from domestic and international investors, and several new ventures have entered the sector.
Large pharma moving into the cannabidiol market
It was announced in September 2019 that a subsidiary of Teva Pharmaceuticals, one of the world’s largest pharma conglomerates, has signed a deal with Canndoc, a medical cannabis company. The agreement relates to distributing GMP products (stands for Good Manufacturing Practice) to pharmaceutical customers, including hospitals, health maintenance organizations (HMOs) and all pharmacies in Israel.
Trademark applications on the rise
When running a preliminary trademark search in ExaMatch using the product description “cannabis” in Class 5 globally we see that trademark applications for cannabidiol have feverishly increased in the past three years. In 2017, there were over 180 applications and this grew to over 760 in 2018. And by September 2019, applications had leapt to 1,950. At the time of writing, in April 2020, this had ballooned by a whopping 362% to over 9,000.
However, it is worth noting that only just over 2,400 applications have been approved to date, with more than 5,700 currently pending worldwide.
Outside of the United States, most applications come from Canada. The Cannabis Act came into effect in October 2018 and made Canada the second country in the world to formally legalize the cultivation, possession, acquisition, and consumption of cannabis and its by-products for recreational and medical purposes. This factor demonstrates the potential for growth in the industry, something that Denmark is currently experiencing.
Today the 3 top registries are Canada’s CIPO (46.5%), the United States USPTO (10.8%) and the European Union EUIPO (5.9%). Top owners are 3 Canadian cannabis companies Aphria, Inc. (6.1%), TWEED, Inc. (4.5%) and Spectrum Cannabis Canada, Ltd (1.8%).
Liberalization of cannabis laws
The favorable rumblings from highly-respected medical organizations will undoubtedly see more countries liberalizing their cannabis laws. WHO has suggested a rescheduling of cannabis within the international drug control framework to facilitate trade for medicinal and scientific purposes re-aligning the 1961 and 1971 Conventions. However, the Commission for Narcotic Drugs delayed its vote on the proposal earlier in 2019. Suspected reasons for this move include the push-back from some countries, including the United States, to the gradual legalization of the drug.
A chief concern relating to medical cannabis is the lack of research. However, with the products receiving a Nice classification code, which will encourage more trademarks, Big Pharma will be more inclined to invest in clinical trials, knowing its brand is protected.
This can be nothing but sterling news for brave families such as Matthews’ - whose lives have been transformed by cannabidiol.
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