Cannabis & Patents: What’s Coming Next?

When it comes to cannabis patents… what’s eligible for patenting?

The Answer: Everything except the plant itself.

The cannabis industry is booming, and while that is old news (unless you’ve been living under a rock), the question remains: how much ‘boom’ is left? 

In other words, how much growth potential is left for cannabis? 

PatSnap put together a GREAT report on edibles that I think is a good background for someone looking to get a sense of the innovation happening with cannabis at large.

There are plenty of other articles covering cannabis business and the overall trends, but I just wanted to highlight here that innovation is directly correlated to the overall industry. 

This article will cover major innovation categories that have emerged over the past several years and served as hotbeds for patent filings that enable companies to control pockets of this growing market. 

The 3 big innovation categories within the cannabis industry are:

  1. Agriculture Technology
  2. Hemp and CBD
  3. Electronic Payment

Agriculture Technology

Termed “Ag-Tech”, this is the innovation space that is helping farmers, wholesalers, distributors, retailers, and even customers with full life-cycle solutions for agriculture. 

The front end technology at the farms/orchards/vineyards is what is most impactful, but the entire supply chain (including customers) are reaping the reward by getting cheaper, higher quality produce from farms. 

Patent eligibility and Ag-Tech? Absolutely. Under 35 USC 101 (the patent subject matter statute), a process/method that uses computers is ELIGIBLE as long as it can be shown to have a practical application and an inventive concept. 

“Practical Application” is a fairly new term that courts haven’t had much time to discern, but in every real sense, this just means something that someone in the field of the technology could put to use readily. 

Ag-Tech covers the concepts of computer-implemented solutions across the board. Here are some of the sub-areas within Ag Tech that are patentable and some examples from patented solutions:

This patent is for monitoring the quality of cannabis plants
This patent protects drones for precision irrigation/farming
This patent protects a robotic agricultural system

So, as you can see, there is a WIDE variety of these patents out there covering agriculture in general, but it is coinciding with the ever-increasing adoption and legalization of marijuana across the country. 

The Cannabis plant has so many touted health benefits (see below discussion of CBDs) and the market is really just beginning. 

Hemp and CBD

Hemp is the natural plant product of the cannabis plant. It’s the leafy (sometimes dried) part of the plant. Cannabidiol (known as CBD) is the non-psychoactive cannabinoid of the cannabis plant that has many health benefits. There are plenty of great references to each of these. I’ve found a couple of great sites that I’d recommend visiting to get up to speed on the differences and definitions:

Hemp and CBD are two non-Class 1 (federally controlled) substances that are seeing a LOT of innovation, products, and agricultural-related/plant-based technology adaptations. If there is less than 0.3% THC in the plant, it does not classify as a controlled substance under the Farm Bill of 2018

This patent protects structural uses for manufactured hemp product
  • Methods of Extracting Cannabidiol (CBD) from Hemp
  • CBD for Microneedle System for Pain Relief
This patent protects CBD for microneedle system for pain relief
This patent protects a patch to be worn to deliver transdermal CBD

Electronic Payment

The lack of federal insurance for deposits on these transactions has caused restrictions on formal/traditional banking. As a result, those players have shifted to a mainly cash-based system. 

Those cash-based businesses have had to deal with extra risks to safety and security regarding where those cash repositories are located. Additionally, they face major issues regarding transfers of cash deposits across state and international boundaries. 

Here’s a GREAT article that describes this scenario perfectly, showing how CFOs of cannabis companies are having to deal with MILLIONS of dollars in cash constantly in transit.

The dawn of cashless payment systems is here. The answer cannot be huge federally-controlled platforms like Venmo, Paypal, or other Credit/Debit ACH clearing companies. The answer is CRYPTO

With respect to PATENTS, the following patents for solutions surrounding cannabis and marijuanna companies have already been issued:

This patent shows the system and business method for delivery of cannabis products
This patent shows the system and method of issuance of electronic currency

There are MANY other patents that have been issued on blockchain and conducting financial transactions in digital currency. These systems seem VERY ripe for cannabis/marijuana related fields to use, as they are (by definition) unregulated and could be a MUCH safer way to transact (not including cash). 

In Summary

The cannabis industry is just getting started, but there has already been a lot of progress in different innovative areas.

To recap, the main categories for innovation in the cannabis industry are:

  • Agriculture Technology
  • Hemp and CBD
  • Electronic Payment

New industries are fun because there are still so many different areas that can be improved with new and creative ideas. Plus, there is already a solid foundation to give you and your ideas a place to start and build upon!

How will you improve the cannabis industry with your unique ideas?

Legal Note: This blog article does not constitute as legal advice. Although the article was written by a licensed USPTO patent attorney there are many factors and complexities that come into patenting an idea. We recommend you consult a lawyer if you want legal advice for your particular situation. No attorney-client or confidential relationship exists by simply reading and applying the steps stated in this blog article.

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