Exploring COVID-19 Vaccine Patents

Based on the dataset from the WIPO Patent Landscape Report on COVID-19 Vaccines and Therapeutics, this article delves into the patent landscape of COVID-19 vaccines, providing further analysis and insights into related patenting activity throughout the pandemic.

The patent search undertaken for this report looked at related patent filings from January 2020 through September 2022. It found 7,758 patent filings on technologies related to COVID-19 in general, including 1,298 patent filings related to vaccine development.

COVID-19 Vaccine-related filing activity has been extraordinarily active

COVID-19 vaccine-related patent application filing peaked in April 2020, followed by a corresponding peak in COVID-19 vaccine-related patent publications in October 2021. This data trend describes a period when intense innovation drove early identification and the development of effective means of combating SARS-CoV-2.

The patent applications related to COVID-19 vaccines disclose a wide variety of vaccine platforms, ranging from conventional platforms, such as protein subunit, inactivated virus, virus-like particle (VLP) and live attenuated virus platforms, to more innovative ones, such as viral vector-based, nucleic acid-based (DNA and RNA based vaccines) and antigen-presenting cell (APC)-based platforms.

Geographical distribution:China and US filed the majority of COVID-19 vaccine patent applications

The top five patent applicant locations in the field of vaccines are China (573 patent application), the United States of America (356), Germany (57), the Republic of Korea (56) and the Russian Federation (48).

In each vaccine platform related to COVID-19 vaccines, both China and the United States of America hold the top positions in the number of patent applications. Applicants from Germany, the Republic of Korea, the United Kingdom, Japan and others focused on protein subunit, viral vector and RNA vaccine platforms. Russian Federation applicants filed mainly in the field of viral vector vaccines.

Variation in patent filing strategies and the significance of PCT applications during the pandemic

Because COVID-19 vaccines and therapeutics have a global market, it should come as no surprise that related applications were filed and published by patent offices all over the world. Specifically, vaccine patents were published across 30 patent offices. The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), administering the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) system, received the most COVID-19-related vaccine patent applications, followed by the China National Intellectual Property Administration (CNIPA), the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) and the European Patent Office (EPO), all receiving a significant number of applications of either type. WIPO’s current top ranking is a likely indication that patent applicants are leveraging the WIPO administered PCT system in order to protect inventions across multiple jurisdictions.

Both business and the research community have contributed significantly to the patent landscape

Corporate applicants account for the largest percentage of filings (764 patent families, 52%). Universities and public research organizations make a similar contribution (611 patent families, 42%), while independent inventors accounted for only 6% of filings (94 patent families).

The top four applicants were universities and research organizations (Tsinghua University, China; PLA Academy of Military Medical Services, China; The Gamaleya National Center of Epidemiology and Microbiology, Russia; Institute of Microbiology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, China), while the number five spot was filled by a company, Liaoning Chengda Biotechnology Co., Ltd. (China), followed by Sun Yat-Sen University (China), ModernaTX, Inc. (United States of America), Institut Pasteur (France), Tübingen Medical School (Germany), the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences Institute of Medical Biology (China) and additional companies, universities and research organizations.