Covid-19 coronavirus: patent database observations

Lars Braams

As per 8 September 2020, 143 search results containing the words “Covid 19” in the title, claims or the abstract of a patent show up in the international patent database Espacenet. Over the past weeks, this number grows with about 15 new results each week. While the race for a vaccine covers the headlines around the globe, this article observes what happens on the background in terms of patenting. Generally, the time between a patent application and the publication thereof is 18 months. As the virus was first discovered in December 2019, many inventions followed in 2020. Therefore, most applications concerning Covid-19 are still in the pipeline and confidential. However, early publishers show up in the databases at an increasing rapid rate.

China is now definitely leading in terms of numbers with 103 patents, followed by the US (12), Australia (9) and Russia (7). Figure 1 shows the number of applicants broken down by country (click here.)

The applicants are mainly companies, followed by individuals, universities and hospitals. The hospitals are mostly local hospitals in China, who are for a large part responsible for patents covering traditional Chinese medicine. Figure 2 shows the applicants broken down by category (click here).

In terms of scope, most patents cover detection/screening/monitoring/diagnosis (46 patents), followed by patents covering a compound for treatment of Covid-19 (18 patents) and traditional Chinese treatment (18 patents). Figure 3 contains an overview of the patents categorized by scope (click here). The category “Treatment (other)” in figure 3 covers various treatment methods, for example electromagnetic stimulation, ultrasonic treatment and bacteria’s. The category “Miscellaneous” covers a broad range of topics, such as forecast models, management practices, methods for screening candidate drugs, but also virus sample preservation solutions. The category Gene Tech (12 patents) relates to treatment, but uses specific DNA/RNA technologies for that purpose, such as the construction of a sequencing library. Only seven (7) patents relate to vaccines.

Figure 4 (click here shows that the applicants for the vaccine patents are all Chinese. Three out of seven applicants appear on the landscape of COVID-19 candidate vaccines, drafted by the WHO on 8 September 2020 (accessible here.)

Figure 4 shows that Australia and the US have the highest numbers in the category Cleaning and Disinfection (3, respectively 2 patents) and Germany is currently mainly represented in the category protective clothing/masks (3 patents). Compared to China, the (published) patent applications of the rest of the world currently mainly concern the periphery of Covid-19. Although I expect China will continue to lead in numbers (as it does in other fields of technology), other countries will gain a substantive position in the global landscape over the next two years.


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