Cannabis has been making a lot of headlines lately. Nearly a century after it was listed as a prohibited substance in the United States and elsewhere, recent years have seen a gradual shift towards acceptance—both as a medicine and as a recreational substance. California led the way, as the first US state to approve medicinal cannabis in 1998. Today 33 states and Washington, DC have passed laws authorizing either recreational cannabis, medicinal cannabis, or both.
The majority of the population of the United States now lives in a state with legal access to cannabis. Additionally, six in ten Americans support cannabis legalization. On October 17, 2018, recreational use of cannabis was legalized in Canada, joining a growing list of nations in which cannabis is legal or decriminalized. Clearly, there is a trend.
Tracking the ideas
Our patent analytics team at Clarivate Analytics was interested to see whether this shift towards acceptance of cannabis has affected innovation in cannabinoids, as measured in patent filings. We created search queries on terms around cannabinoids and cannabinoid receptors, focused on inventions from 2005 onwards and aimed our models at the inventions and ideas identified.
Tracking patent activity, or more specifically, patented ideas, gives a detailed picture of ideation and commercial research. This is because the patent right is a trade. Inventors (and their employers) get ownership and exclusivity of the technology, but in return they must tell the world what the invention was and how others can use it. This provides a unique data source that links the worlds of commerce and innovation together.
Figure 1: Cannabinoids patent landscape timeline. Source: Derwent Innovation.
The pattern of filings in the cannabinoid space is highly unusual. It is not often that we see a patent timeline with a sharp downturn followed by an equally sharp recovery.
The pattern of filings in the cannabinoid space is highly unusual. It is not often that we see a patent timeline with a sharp downturn followed by an equally sharp recovery.”
Early activity in the cannabinoids patent space was dominated by large, traditional pharmaceutical companies, generally applying combinatorial chemistry techniques to develop new synthetic compounds which targeted cannabinoid receptors in human cells.
In the timeline of global cannabis innovation, 2012 is a pivot point. What occurred around that time that could explain such a turnaround in activity? Simple: the electorates of the US states of Colorado and Washington voted in favor of the legalization of cannabis. Seven US states and the District of Columbia then followed with similar measures over the next four years.
From medicinal to recreational use?
We also explored the cannabinoid space by tagging individual inventions to therapeutic target and type of active cannabinoid.
Figure 2: Timeline of major innovation directions. Source: Derwent Innovation.
Through this analysis, we find that pre-2012 cannabinoid patent activity is therapy-centered, while post-2012 research is all about the active ingredient and how to deliver it. An eyebrow-raising conclusion could be that pre-2012 patenting was exclusively medicinal, and post-2012 is increasingly recreational. Certainly, the data points in that direction.
An eyebrow-raising conclusion could be that pre-2012 patenting was exclusively medicinal, and post-2012 is increasingly recreational.”
Landscaping cannabinoid innovation
The commercial dynamic within the cannabinoid sector is simultaneously undergoing significant change. Early ideation in the mid-2000s came from large, established pharmaceutical entities predominantly developing synthetic compounds intended to modulate cannabinoid receptors. However, this early activity experienced a significant downward trend and implied declining commercial opportunity. In recent years, commercial activity has shifted to smaller, more dynamic entities, with focus on the delivery of phytocannabinoids for both therapeutic and recreational purposes.
Deregulation in the United States, Canada and other territories has caused an explosion in the level of IP protection around cannabis, thoroughly linking the regulatory environment and the amount of research and commercialization in the sector.
We can’t say with certainty how regulations around cannabis and cannabinoids will change and further affect the innovation landscape. Currently, cannabis remains illegal at the federal level in the US. However, we can say that as governments around the world continue to re-assess cannabis and cannabinoids for therapeutic use and global acceptance similarly grows for recreational use, any further deregulation will act as a further catalyst for research and new ideas, new applications and new commercial activity.
Analyzing the unique data source that is public patent data provides a powerful viewpoint into innovation trends. We predict much more to come, so let’s see what happens next.
This article was adapted from a longer analysis by Mark Markley and Ed White of Clarivate Analytics, “Money in the Pot: The impact of deregulation on cannabinoids innovation.”