A lot of work goes into the development of premium marijuana strains. Some specialty buds have lineages that date back to the 1950s, and are bred closely with other high-quality plants to achieve a superior strain. To prevent well-funded copycats from doing what they do best, some growers are turning up their patent game.
Patent No. 9095554 made history by becoming the first patent issued for a marijuana plant with exceptional THC levels. Awarded on August 4, 2015, the issuance of the patent is symbol of the industry’s progress into mainstream markets. Patent infringement is a very complicated space that can be costly for the average cultivator. Phylos Bioscience, a Portland-based startup, is aiming to make the process easier to manage by mapping weed genes.
The company is currently building a massive database of marijuana samples. The treasure trove of data is mapped out using Principal Components Analysis, which connects the strains via “hereditary lines.” Individuals who are interested in seeing the classification of their favorite buds can check out the Phylos Galaxy online map, which is composed of thousands of popular strains, including Sour Diesel, Purple Kush, and Girl Scout Cookies. Unlike online database services, such as Leafly and Weedmaps, Phylos researchers go deeper into each plant by sequencing their DNA. This makes the group’s catalog much more accurate.
“Sample collection was a huge part of this process,” said Carolyn White, Sales and Marketing Manager at Phylos Bioscience. “One side was a collaboration with growers, dispensaries and labs to collect modern samples, and the other a process of hunting down ancient landrace strains from all over the world.”
The information that the scientists used to create the 3D map is valuable. Essentially, the collection of data can be utilized to support patents, streamline plant identification services, and make cool posters. For now, the group sees potential in applying their findings to helping cultivators acquire patents.
Using Marijuana Genetic Maps for Patents
Patent wars are becoming a reality for competitive marijuana growers. Holding a patent over a specific plant could give you rights to produce and sell the strain exclusively. It may also allow people to legally take copycats to court for patent infringement. At the moment, very few growers have patents on their plants, which makes it all the more important to implement vigilantly, especially for potent strains.
Furthermore, cultivators who are heavily invested in the development of special strains may not have adequate funds to scale their offerings for mass production. Without a patent, large pharmaceutical companies, like Monsanto, could easily take the vulnerable strain, slightly modify it and sell it at large quantities, which takes millions of dollars to execute.
“These people aren’t worried about the Department of Justice anymore,” said Hilary Bricken, a Seattle lawyer who chairs the Canna Law Group of the firm Harris Moure. “Now they’re worried about Monsanto.”