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Patenting to Fight Pandemics: The Canadian Story

From: Canadian Intellectual Property Office

COVID-19 first appeared in December 2019. By March 2020, the virus was spreading around the world with increasing speed, leading the World Health Organization to declare a global pandemic.Endnotes 1 The spread of the virus has had profound impacts on nations around the world, and researchers have mobilized resources at an unprecedented scale to address COVID-19.

Canada has had a comprehensive response to this pandemic. Taking into account total expenses associated with measures announced as of , the Government of Canada is expected to spend an estimated $225.9 billion in COVID response measures.Endnotes 2 This includes spending related to Federal fiscal stimulus and other initiatives to support Canadian individuals and businesses.

The National Research Council of Canada (NRC), Canada's largest federal research and development (R&D) organization, is leading one such initiative. The NRC is partnering with industries to identify technologies that could help in the fight against COVID, and take this research from the lab to the marketplace. This includes three Challenge Programs to respond to the needs of healthcare providers and Canadians.Endnotes 3

The Canadian Intellectual Property Office (CIPO) has partnered with the NRC to understand the current state of play of patenting in the three research areas of NRC's Pandemic Response Challenge Program. These include: Therapeutics and Vaccine Development, Rapid Detection and Diagnosis, and Digital Health. More than 11,000 patented inventionsFootnote i between 1999 and 2018 were identified globally for technologies that could aid in the fight against COVID-19.Footnote ii Of these, close to 8,500 patented inventions were found to be assigned to an institution and 178 patented inventions were attributed to Canadian institutions.Footnote iii

Assigning patents to institutions allows for a comparison across jurisdictions with respect to the level of patenting. Currently, Canadian institutions hold the eighth largest patent portfolio in this field in the world.

Figure 1: Breakdown of the dataset analyzed for this report
Figure 1
Figure 1 - Text version

Figure 1 is a diagram in the shape of an upside down triangle showing a breakdown of patented inventions by data set. The upper partition shows that worldwide patented inventions for COVID-19 were 11,057. This partition is shaded in light orange with text in white. The middle partition shows that worldwide patented inventions for COVID-19 attributable to an institution is 8,452. This partition is shaded in dark orange with text in white. Beside this partition, it is written that there are 3,727 institutions in this data set. The bottom portion shows Canadian patented inventions for COVID-19 attributable to a Canadian institution is 178. This partition is shaded in brown with text in white. Beside this partition, it is written that there are 85 Canadian institutions in this data set.

Figure 2: Patent filing trend across the three research areas for international and Canadian institutions
Figure 2
Figure 2 - Text version

Figure 2 consists of a line chart that shows the patent filling trend for three research areas (Therapeutic and Vaccine Development in blue, Rapid detection and diagnosis in orange and digital health in gray). The onset of prior outbreaks (SARS in 2002, H1N1 in 2009 and SRMO in 2012), are indicated in red.

Figure 2: Patent filing trend across the three research areas for international institutions
Research Area 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018
Therapeutics and Vaccine Development 32 76 67 80 296 352 307 304 284 280 297 259 253 224 263 242 313 337 299 239
Rapid Detection and Diagnosis 12 30 44 38 55 71 72 85 76 124 122 160 149 154 182 189 278 292 301 403
Digital Health 1 7 9 14 16 16 21 17 18 25 12 9 22 48 58 71 56 131 144 244
Figure 2: Patent filing trend across the three research areas for Canadian institutions
Research Area 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018
Therapeutics and Vaccine Development 1 1 3 2 4 15 10 15 19 10 2 4 4 5 13 5 4 5 6 4
Rapid detection and diagnosis 0 0 1 0 2 0 0 2 3 3 4 3 1 0 1 0 2 2 1 7
Digital Health 0 0 0 1 1 0 0 1 0 1 0 0 0 0 2 0 1 3 2 7

The international and Canadian patent filing trend between 1999 and 2018 shows a dramatic increase in filings related to therapeutics and vaccine development immediately after the SARS outbreak. Filings related to rapid detection, diagnosis and digital health picked up after the H1N1 and MERS outbreaks. This illustrates an effort to be more proactive in containing a potential outbreak rather than simply dealing with resulting health impact and developing the preventive measure of a vaccine.

Figure 3: International patent filing trend for COVID-19 related technologies by institution's country of origin between 1999 and 2018
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Figure 3 - Text version
Figure 3: International patent filing trend for COVID-19 related technologies by institution's country of origin between 1999 and 2018
Application Year United States China Germany Republic of Korea Japan United Kingdom Canada
1999 7 5 20 - 3 - 1
2000 43 1 23 1 3 6 1
2001 64 5 13 - 7 2 4
2002 68 4 13 1 7 6 3
2003 83 178 14 6 20 6 7
2004 182 70 32 8 25 12 15
2005 165 61 25 14 30 22 10
2006 195 46 25 10 26 20 18
2007 163 36 34 12 17 23 22
2008 168 72 24 15 17 19 14
2009 179 60 30 11 25 22 7
2010 158 100 20 20 17 22 7
2011 160 113 17 13 20 17 6
2012 161 122 17 13 15 11 6
2013 160 152 25 26 22 20 16
2014 207 161 29 13 12 13 5
2015 228 257 23 25 19 11 7
2016 253 315 19 30 19 16 9
2017 218 289 30 56 16 16 9
2018 236 480 13 39 13 12 14

China and the United States have largely led the growth among leading countries for pandemic-mitigating technologies. However, it is encouraging to see Canadian institutions' growth being on par with leading innovative economies such as Germany and Japan.

Figure 4: Relative Specialization Index by institution's country of origin for COVID-19 related technologies
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Figure 4: Relative Specialization Index by institution's country of origin for COVID-19 related technologies
Country of Origin RSI
Republic of Korea -0.354
Japan -0.256
Germany 0.045
France 0.107
Netherlands 0.508
United States 0.521
United Kingdom 0.578
Canada 0.631
Switzerland 0.641

After gaining a better understanding of the international and Canadian institution trends for COVID-19 related technologies, it is interesting to look at just how specialized Canadian institutions are in this field when compared to institutions globally using an index known as the Relative Specialization Index (RSI). This measure uses patenting intensity to allow for patenting activity to be compared between countries of different sizes by comparing the country's share of patenting in a specific technology area to their share of all patents. Using this metric, Canada has one of the highest RSI values, indicating a very high specialization for pandemic and outbreak mitigation and fighting technologies.

Figure 5: Distribution of patented inventions across three research areas for international and Canadian institutions
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Figure 5 - Text version
Figure 5: Distribution of patented inventions across three research areas for international and Canadian institutions
Research Area International Institution Patented Invention Count Canadian Institution Patented Invention Count
Therapeutics and Vaccine Development 4,804 (56%) 132 (72%)
Rapid Detection and Diagnosis 2,837 (33%) 32 (18%)
Digital Health 939 (11%) 19 (10%)

A deeper look into the three research areas relating to NRC's Pandemic Response Challenge Program reveals that Canadian institutions are filing relatively more in therapeutics and vaccine development when compared to institutions globally. This is driving the strong showing of Canada in the RSI.

Figure 6: Canadian patent landscape map for COVID-19 related technologies
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Figure 6 is a patent landscape map that provides a visual representation of Canadian patent activities in this report. Derwent Innovation's ThemeScape mapping tool was utilized to produce this visualization, using term frequency (keywords from a patents title and abstract) and other algorithms to cluster documents based on shared language. The result is a patent landscape map, a map very much resembling that of a topographic map, where there are sections of turquoise and white. Areas pertaining to Digital Health are highlighted in red, areas pertaining to Rapid Detection and Diagnosis are highlighted in purple and regions pertaining to Therapeutics and Vaccine Development are highlighted in yellow. Sections are comprised of peaks, some of which have bright white peaks, representing the highest concentration of patents and are labelled with key terms that tie common themes together. Turquoise is used to separate terms where there is no commonality between them. The legend provides more details on the top inventors and key words as described in the report.

Broad themes written in all capital letters include:

For Therapeutics and Vaccine development, indicated in yellow:

  • Halo
  • Heteroaryl
  • Plant
  • Monophosphate
  • Stimulate
  • Innate immunity
  • Formulate

For Digital health, indicated in red:

  • Information

For Rapid Detection and Diagnosis, indicated in purple:

  • Path
  • Rapid diagnostic test panel
  • Detection molecule

Common key words in this graph include:

For Therapeutics and Vaccine development, indicated in yellow:

  • Community-Acquired
  • Community-Acquired Pneumonia
  • Course of Treatment of a Patient Suffer
  • Vaccine
  • Allantoic Fluid
  • Virus-Infected Chick Embryo
  • Series
  • Active Regulatory Region
  • Chimeric Nucleotide Sequence Encode
  • Anti-Triglyceride
  • Pharmaceutical Formulation
  • Duchene's Muscular Dystrophy
  • Pain Disorder
  • Pentanediamide
  • Prepare Medicine
  • Bark
  • Beverage
  • Red
  • Metastatic Bone Disease
  • Androgen
  • Androgen Receptor Modulator
  • Substitute
  • Alkyl
  • Salt
  • Conjugate
  • Antibody
  • Link
  • RNA
  • Cell
  • Endoribonuclease
  • Anti-inflammatory Composition
  • Characteristic of the Immune Response
  • Anti-inflammatory Response
  • Prepare
  • Adenovirus
  • Recombinant
  • Failure
  • Organ
  • Immunosuppressive
  • Therapy
  • Pathogen Infection
  • Aeromonas
  • Immunogen
  • Adjuvant
  • Antibody
  • SARS-COV Infection
  • SARS-COV
  • Immunogenic
  • Impair
  • SCD-Mediated
  • SCD-Mediated Disease
  • Region
  • Bind
  • Protein
  • Responsive
  • Dipeptidyl
  • Immune-Related Disorder

For Digital health, indicated in red:

  • Data
  • Information
  • Processor

For Rapid Detection and Diagnosis, indicated in purple:

  • Presence
  • Analytes
  • Analyte
  • Excitation
  • Thermal Data
  • Target Site
  • Metabolite
  • Quantify
  • Phase
  • Material
  • House
  • Bacterium
  • Conjugate Type
  • Test System
  • Test Molecule
  • Biorecognition
  • Biorecognition Molecule
  • Microbeads
  • Test Panel
  • Aldolase
  • C- Reactive

When we map the patent landscape by Canadian institutions, we can identify the key areas that experience high patent activity in pandemic and outbreak mitigation related technologies. Canada's strength in therapeutics and vaccine development is clear as it takes up almost two-thirds of the map. In addition, most of these areas are related to chemical compositions of vaccines which could indicate that Canadian institutions are specialized in the development of vaccines. It appears to leverage expertise within innate immunity, microbial infections, organ failure, immunosuppression, Duchene's dystrophy, metastatic bone disease, recombinant adenoviral technology, and others.

Figure 7: Patent filing trend for international institutions
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Figure 7 - Text version
Figure 7: Patent filing trend for international institutions
Sub-category 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018
Medical Preparations 28 69 64 77 288 339 296 273 268 260 282 240 225 189 236 212 259 271 249 192
Medical Preparations and Human 24 43 46 43 234 288 239 185 207 183 208 163 167 128 153 148 180 188 161 118
Medical Preparation containing Antigens 3 20 14 26 88 130 99 97 96 84 120 81 80 65 98 81 94 107 101 70
Medical Preparation containing Antigens and Human 0 9 7 7 61 106 71 51 63 52 77 46 51 39 56 44 54 64 56 30
Immunogenic Compositions (specific to coronaviridae) 5 12 6 10 42 66 42 42 22 34 23 30 42 43 51 46 69 86 67 56
Protein Sequence 1 0 0 1 17 36 20 21 7 7 6 6 8 4 6 6 18 20 18 11
Immunogenic Compositions (specific to coronaviridae) & Human 1 0 0 0 3 2 3 1 1 0 1 0 1 2 0 0 3 11 5 1
Figure 7: Patent filing trend for Canadian institutions
Sub-category 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018
Medical Preparations 0 1 3 2 4 14 10 15 19 10 2 4 4 5 10 5 3 4 5 4
Medical Preparations and Human 0 0 2 2 2 11 8 11 17 7 2 3 3 3 4 3 1 2 4 2
Medical Preparation containing Antigens 0 1 1 0 2 7 5 3 5 4 2 3 4 2 5 1 3 0 2 1
Medical Preparation containing Antigens & Human 0 0 0 0 1 6 4 2 3 2 2 2 3 1 3 1 1 0 1 0
Immunogenic Compositions (specific to coronaviridae) 1 1 0 0 1 4 3 1 1 2 0 1 4 0 5 0 1 1 2 0
Protein Sequence 0 0 0 0 1 4 1 0 0 0 0 0 2 0 0 0 0 1 1 0
Immunogenic Compositions (specific to coronaviridae) & Human 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0

Diving even deeper into therapeutics and vaccine development category reveals the patent intensity of the sub-categories over time. The bulk of the patent activity for this research area pertains to medical preparation. For this group of sub-categories, international and Canadian institutions had experienced an average annual growth of 66% and 89% respectively during the SARS outbreak. This patent activity reflects specialized knowledge within the institutions that can be leveraged in the future.

Table 1: Leading Canadian institutions and their top research area and inventor
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Table 1 - Text version
Table 1: Leading Canadian institutions and their top research area and inventor
Canadian Institution Name Top Research Area Top Inventor(s)
XENON PHARMACEUTICALS INC (BC) 19 Therapeutics and Vaccine Development 19 Kamboj Rajender (India) 7
FIO CORPORATION (ON) 11 Rapid Detection and Diagnosis 9 Chan Warren Che Wor (ON) 3
REPLICOR INC (QC) 8 Therapeutics and Vaccine Development 8 Vaillant Andrew (QC) 5
UNIVERSITY HEALTH NETWORK (ON) 7 Therapeutics and Vaccine Development 6 Kelvin David (ON) 3
MEDICAGO INC (QC) 6 Therapeutics and Vaccine Development 6 Vezina Louis-Philippe (QC) 3
MERCK CANADA INC (QC) 6 Therapeutics and Vaccine Development 6 Robichaud Joel (QC) 2
INIMEX PHARMACEUTICALS INC (BC) 5 Therapeutics and Vaccine Development 5 Lentz Shannon Wayne (BC) 3
Rozek Annett (BC) 3
QU BIOLOGICS INC (BC) 5 Therapeutics and Vaccine Development 5 Gunn Harold David (BC) 3
YES BIOTECHNOLOGY INC (BC) 5 Rapid Detection and Diagnosis 5 Whitehead Peter (BC) 3
FOLIA BIOTECH INC (QC) 4 Therapeutics and Vaccine Development 4 Leclerc Denis (QC) 3
ID BIOMEDICAL CORPORATION OF QUEBEC (QC) 4 Therapeutics and Vaccine Development 4 Lowell George H.(QC) 2
UNIVERSITY OF MANITOBA (MB) 4 Therapeutics and Vaccine Development 4 Kikkert Marjolein (Netherlands) 2
Mark Brian Leonard (MB) 2
UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO (ON) 4 Therapeutics and Vaccine Development 3 Gray-Owen Scott (ON) 2
CHEMAPHOR INC (ON) 3 Therapeutics and Vaccine Development 3 Burton Graham (ON) 2
Daroszewski Janusz (ON) 2
LUMEN ASSOCIATES INC (AB) 3 Rapid Detection and Diagnosis 3 Fry Jeffrey Donald 2
MICROBIX BIOSYSTEMS INC (ON) 3 Therapeutics and Vaccine Development 3 Hughes Kenneth (ON) 2
Williams Gregory V. 2
HEALTH CANADA (CA) 3 Therapeutics and Vaccine Development 3 Andonov Anton (MB) 2
NEOMED INSTITUTE (QC) 3 Therapeutics and Vaccine Development 3 Marsault Eric (QC) 2

Looking at the Canadian story, 15 of the top 18 leading Canadian institutions that have been actively patenting for pandemic and outbreak mitigation related technologies are working in the therapeutics and vaccine development areas. Table 1 also indicates the leading inventor associated with each Canadian institution. The therapeutics and vaccine development research area is comprised of biotech firms, larger universities primarily based in Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia, as well as universities that collaborate nationally or internationally (e.g. University of Manitoba). Canadian institutions are associated with a leading inventor that resides in Canada, pointing to the talent pool of qualified researchers in this field in Canada.

Future Work

CIPO will be publishing a more comprehensive IP Analytics report for this study in early 2021. This will include deeper dives into rapid detection, diagnosis and digital health. As contact tracing apps and consideration for at-home or personal tests are being explored, an increase of patenting activity in these areas is expected. CIPO intends to revisit these technologies in two or three years to better understand the role that patenting played in the fight against COVID-19 and whether this unprecedented global pandemic will result in a sustained and permanent increase in health-based innovation.

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