Viral image about patents for viruses is misleading

24 February 2020
What was claimed

US-Patent 5676977 is for AIDS.

Our verdict

This number is for a now-expired patent for an ineffective AIDS cure.

What was claimed

US-Patent 8835624 is for the H1N1 virus.

Our verdict

The patent with this number was for a strand of DNA that binds to the H1N1 virus, not the virus itself.

What was claimed

US patent number 20120251502 is for Ebola.

Our verdict

This application number was for a strain of the Ebola virus but the application has now been abandoned. The virus was not created by those who filed the patent.

What was claimed

US patent number CA2741523 is for swine flu.

Our verdict

This is the application number for a patent for the Ebola virus made to the Canadian Intellectual Property Office. This patent has not been granted, and doesn’t mean the Ebola virus was created by someone.

What was claimed

0070031450 A1 is a US patent for BSE (mad cow disease).

Our verdict

There is a patent application number one digit away from this that mentions BSE, but is not a patent for BSE itself.

What was claimed

ATTC VR-84 is a patent for Zika virus that comes from the Rockefeller Foundation.

Our verdict

This is the name of a certain strain of Zika virus, which was first isolated in the 1940s in a lab funded by the Rockefeller Foundation. This strain was not patented.

What was claimed

US patents 7897744 and 8506968 are for SARS.

Our verdict

The first number is the US patent number for the SARS virus. The patent application was made by the CDC, but after the outbreak in 2002. The second number is a patent for a SARS vaccine which has now expired.

What was claimed

US patent 10130701 is for coronavirus.

Our verdict

This number is not a patent for the new Wuhan virus, Covid-19. It’s a patent for a weakened version of a virus in the same family as Covid-19, a family which includes the common cold and SARS.

A post on Facebook seems to claim that a number of viruses have been patented.

Some of these patents are for potential cures or vaccines for the diseases listed. Some are for patents of the pathogens themselves. This does not mean whoever applied for the patent invented the viruses. Some of the patents have been abandoned or have lapsed.

 “AIDS US-Patent 5676977”

This patent number does exist, though it is not an effective cure for AIDS, or a patent on the virus (HIV) which causes AIDS. The patent is for “tetrasilver tetroxide molecular crystal devices” which the inventors wanted to develop as a cure for AIDS.

Filing a patent is not the same as creating an effective cure for something, as none of the same testing needs to take place to file a patent. The patent has now expired.

“H1N1 US-Patent 8835624”

US Patent number 8835624 is for something called an aptamer, which is a tiny strand of DNA or RNA which can bind to certain target molecules on the surface of a pathogen. This patent number applies to an aptamer that binds to H1N1 Influenza A, also known as swine flu. The scientists applying for the patent wanted to use the aptamer to detect the presence of the virus. The patent is not for the swine flu virus itself.

“Ebola US-Patent 20120251502”

US patent application publication number 2012/0251502 A1 is for a strain of human Ebola virus called EboBun and was applied for by the US Department of Health.

This does not mean the US government invented the virus. It applied for the patent for the new virus, not to make money from its use, but so it can allow companies to use the virus to create potential vaccines, and stop companies from restricting research around it.

According to the US Patent and Trademark Office, the status of the patent application is “abandoned”.

 “Swine Flu US-Patent CA2741523”

This number is a patent application number made by the US Centres of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for the Ebola virus EboBun, not swine flu. This application was made to the Canadian Intellectual Property Office. Again, the existence of this application does not mean the CDC invented the virus. The patent has not been granted.

 “BSE US-Patent 0070031450 A1”

We couldn’t find a US patent or patent application with exactly this number.  However, there is a now-abandoned patent, with an application number only one digit away from this. This wasn’t a patent for BSE (Bovine spongiform encephalopathy, commonly known as mad cow disease) itself, but for a type of animal vaccine that included a protein resistant to changes caused by BSE.

“ZIKA ATTC VR-84 (Rockefeller Foundation)”

This sequence of letters and numbers is not a patent or an application number—it’s just the name of a particular strain of the Zika virus. ATCC stands for the American Type Culture Collection, which is an organisation that amongst other things, collects samples of different pathogens. VR-84 is the name of the Zika strain that was first isolated by scientists.

The Rockefeller Foundation did not patent the virus. The virus was originally deposited into the ATCC by Dr Jordi Casals of the Rockefeller Foundation Virus Laboratory in 1953. The original source was isolated from the blood of a rhesus monkey in 1947. According to the Rockefeller Foundation, other viruses were also identified at that laboratory, located in Uganda.

 “SARS US-Patent 7897744 & 8506968”

The first number is a US patent for the genomic sequences for the SARS virus, applied for by the Canadian Public Health Agency.

This particular patent application was made in 2004, after the first SARS outbreak in 2002. This does not mean the Canadian Public Health Agency invented the SARS virus. The CDC also applied for a patent on SARS, to keep information on it in the public domain. There was some concern at the time that if private companies had patents to the genetic data of the virus, it might hinder efforts to create vaccines or cures.

The second number is a now expired patent for “SARS vaccine compositions and methods of making and using them”. 

 “CORONAVIRUS US-Patent 10130701”

A patent application from 2015 does exist for one type of coronavirus, but not the same one as the new one identified in Wuhan, which has now been named Covid-19.

Coronavirus is a broad category of viruses that includes the common cold, SARS, and Covid-19.

The patent number mentioned here refers to a “live attenuated” version of the avian infectious bronchitis virus (IBV).  Live attenuated IBV is essentially a weakened version of the virus, patented with the aim of eventually developing it into a vaccine against the disease for birds and other animals. IBV is in the same family as the new Wuhan coronavirus (which is now known as Covid-19).

We’ve written more about this subject here.

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