A patent for the coronavirus spreading in Wuhan was not applied for in 2015

27th Jan 2020

Claim

The coronavirus patent was applied for in 2015.

Conclusion

Incorrect. A company applied for a patent on a weakened version of a virus in the same family as the new Wuhan virus.

 

A patent for coronavirus was granted in 2018 to the Pirbright Institute UK, founded by Bill and Melinda Gates.

 

A patent for a different virus in the same family as the Wuhan virus was applied for by the Pirbright Institute, which receives part of its funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Claim 1 of 2

We’ve seen a number of claims on social media saying that a patent for coronavirus was filed in 2015, since a new respiratory illness was recently observed in Wuhan, China.

A patent application from 2015 does exist for one type of coronavirus, but not the same one as that identified in Wuhan.

The key point here is that coronavirus is a broad category of viruses which includes the common cold, SARS (the severe acute respiratory syndrome of which there were outbreaks in 2002 and 2004) and this new coronavirus identified in people in Wuhan.

While this new virus has commonly been referred to by the media and others as just “coronavirus”, it is just one type within this family of viruses.

The patent mentioned in the social media posts refers to a “live attenuated” version of the avian infectious bronchitis virus (IBV). This 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.

This patent for the weakened IBV was granted to the Pirbright Institute in the UK, which says it “does not currently work with human coronaviruses”.

One post also makes reference to funding from Bill and Melinda Gates to the Pirbright Institute.

The Pirbright Institute does receive some funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, although not for this patented work. The institute was not founded by them as claimed.

This article is part of our work factchecking potentially false pictures, videos and stories on Facebook. You can read more about this—and find out how to report Facebook content—here. For the purposes of that scheme, we’ve rated this claim as false because the newly observed Wuhan coronavirus is not patented; that was for a different coronavirus.

We aim for our fact checks to be as accurate and up-to-date as possible. If you think we've made an error or missed some relevant information, please email team@fullfact.org.

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