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Is Johnson and Johnson Collecting Cannabis Patents?

Jessica McKeil
cannabis, cannabis topicals, medical cannabis, CBD, THC, cannabinoids, Johnson and Johnson, Canada, USA, funding research, cannabis research

Should a multi-national corporation own the rights to cannabis?

If you do a quick patent search, there are now well over 5,000 patent filings for cannabis-based topicals. Clearly, major corporations are carving out space for the introduction of cannabinoid therapeutics in their topical preparations. As consumers and cannabis patients, we should be concerned. Cannabis and the many valuable cannabinoids should not become privatized, intellectual property for the profit of a handful of multinational corporations.

We’ve seen this happen before. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved Epidiolex for the treatment of pediatric epilepsy. Now, other corporations are joining in to progress cannabis, cannabinoid, and synthetic cannabinoid research. On the surface, this doesn’t sound so bad. After all, if companies have the money for funding research like this, isn’t that a good thing?

Could Patents Cause Prices to Spike?

Compare the price of whole plant preparations of CBD with the expected cost of Epidiolex. Both treatment options are similarly effective in managing seizures. Yet, Epidiolex’s estimated prescription cost is well over $32,000 a year ($2,700 a month). Are we going to witness this same pattern of behavior in the skin care industry as a result? 

cannabis, cannabis topicals, medical cannabis, CBD, THC, cannabinoids, Johnson and Johnson, Canada, USA, funding research, cannabis research

Multinationals funding cannabis research isn’t a big deal until they start to put patents on it. The major issue arises when these corporations keep their findings off-limits to small brands, patients, and physicians. At this point, making cannabis topicals at home is going to be a lot cheaper than getting a prescription cream or buying a premium cosmetic product.

Of the big skincare brands out there today, which are dipping their toes into the cannabis pool? Well, to start Johnson & Johnson – the company behind Aveeno, Clean & Clear, KY Jelly, Lubriderm, and 101 other household brands. They’re betting big on cannabis. Based on their current pattern of behavior, we as consumers, patients, and cannabis consumers should worry.

Johnson & Johnson’s Secret Patent Filings

Does Johnson & Johnson hold a patent outright for topical cannabinoid preparations? Of course not – that would be too public.

It takes a bit of digging to get to the bottom of the lengthy bureaucratic series of partnerships and connections. But if you dig, you’ll discover Johnson & Johnson are involved in patents combining cannabis and skin care, and have spent some big money on research.

Johnson & Johnson, valued at $81.5 billion in 2018, sit at the top of the skincare food chain. In 2016, they purchased Neostrata Company, Inc (including NeoStrata’s affiliates), and its parent company Tristrata. Tristrata employs a corporate lawyer named Kevin McGovern, who is eagerly working to gobble up cannabis intellectual property rights through his patent company called McGovern Capital LLC.

cannabis, cannabis topicals, medical cannabis, CBD, THC, cannabinoids, Johnson and Johnson, Canada, USA, funding research, cannabis research, patents

According to one report, McGovern currently owns 12 LLC’s with cannabis “sounding” names, like Kanninovations. Kanninovations holds at least one patent for cannabis skin care products. Meanwhile, McGovern himself is well entrenched in funding cannabis research around the globe.

Through their purchase of Tristrata, Johnson & Johnson automatically receives direct access to McGovern, his many cannabis-centered LLCs, his research connections, and his experience litigating skin care patent infringements.

Cannabis Research Sponsored by Johnson & Johnson

Beyond McGovern and Tristrata, Johnson & Johnson is funding cannabis research in Canada through JLabs. Johnson & Johnson references JLabs as an “innovation space.” JLabs brings startup consumer tech companies together under one roof to take advantage of Johnson & Johnson’s knowledge, equipment, and more.

The lab, located in Toronto, Ontario, already hosts two cannabis-focused startups. While Johnson & Johnson may not fund research directly, they’re hosting these companies in JLabs’ research space, and supporting the research with its industry knowledge.

The first cannabis company Johnson & Johnson took under its wing was Avicanna. According to its CEO, “Avicanna aims to establish itself as a leader in the global medical cannabis industry through its product discovery and development processes, intellectual property portfolio, strategic relationships, and cultivation infrastructure.”

The second company, Vapium, is a medical vaporizer company focused on solving issues with vaping devices. Vaping is likely a healthier way to consume cannabis. While that might not seem to be within Johnson’s & Johnson’s wheelhouse, one of the other household brands Johnson & Johnson owns is Nicorette, which is focused on ending cigarette addiction. Put those two pieces together, and Vapium technology might one day be combine with Nicorette’s mandate.

cannabis, cannabis topicals, medical cannabis, CBD, THC, cannabinoids, Johnson and Johnson, Canada, USA, funding research, cannabis research

Is it a Problem if Big Brands Fund Cannabis Research?

There is a clear pattern across the industry. Big brands swoop in to fund cannabis research, only to make the final product too expensive for the average consumer. Cannabis is a medicinal plant that has been consumed globally for thousands of years. So, shouldn’t it remain affordable and accessible to everyone?

Do we need pharmaceutical cannabis products to get medicinal value? We’d argue we don’t. Everyone should have access to these medicinal properties, not just those who can afford it.

Remember, cannabis is still federally illegal in the US. Johnson & Johnson may be hedging their bets by funding research and owning patents, but all at a distance. There are no cannabis Johnson & Johnson products yet, and no patents owned directly by them. Instead, it looks as if they are protecting themselves until federal regulations change. This multinational company is carving out space to take over the cannabis skin care market just as soon as the ball drops.

Jessica McKeil
Jessica McKeil

Jessica McKeil is a freelance writer focused on the medical marijuana industry, from production methods to medicinal applications. She is lucky enough to live in beautiful British Columbia, Canada where the cannabis industry is exploding. When not writing, she spends much of her time exploring in the coastal forests.

1 Comment
  • Avatar
    Dan

    They’ll be hard pressed to prevent everyone from selling all types of creams if we can find a single example of THC/CBD in a cream in public use prior to patent. I would bet THC/CBD had been in use in creams prior to the Marijuana Tax Act,which would make it public knowledge, and even if it were patented back then, it would have expired.

    I think the point of the patents are to prevent other companies from making the exact same in a “generic” to a product they will have tested in a clinical study for FDA approval. They would have it FDA approved so it can be prescribed and covered by insurance or qualify for purchase with FSA/HSA funds.

    June 19, 2019 at 12:21 am Reply

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