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Both the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines are built on messenger RNA (mRNA) technology. The problem is that they both use key features that Moderna scientists developed, including the same coronavirus protein encoding, according to the 39-page lawsuit, which was filed in U.S. court in Massachusetts.
“Despite recognizing the importance of patents to innovators such as Moderna, Pfizer and BioNTech have copied Moderna’s intellectual property and have continued to use Moderna’s inventions without permission. Moderna therefore brings this lawsuit to protect the mRNA technology platform it innovated, invested in, and patented, and to ensure that intellectual property is respected,” the suit says.
Pfizer, based in New York, and BioNTech, a German company, did not respond to requests for comment.
Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said during a conference in 2020 that the company’s mRNA vaccine was using an antigen “which is, I think, the same like the [one] Moderna is using,” the suit notes.
Moderna, based in Massachusetts, says it is suing over patent infringement from Mar. 8. The time before that is not contested, because of Moderna’s pledge that it would not assert its patents because of the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic. Moderna is also not seeking damages for Pfizer sales where the U.S. government would be financially responsible, or for sales to 92 poor countries.
Moderna announced on Mar. 7 that companies would have to start abiding by patent rules. The company said it would consider selling licenses if they were requested. But Pfizer and BioNTech have never reached out to request a license, according to the suit.
“We believe that Pfizer and BioNTech unlawfully copied Moderna’s inventions, and they have continued to use them without permission,” said Shannon Thyme Klinger, Moderna’s chief legal officer, in a statement.
Moderna also filed a patent infringement suit in a court in Germany.
“We are filing these lawsuits to protect the innovative mRNA technology platform that we pioneered, invested billions of dollars in creating, and patented during the decade preceding the COVID-19 pandemic,” Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel said in a statement.
Moderna itself was sued for patent infringement earlier this year.
Two companies, Arbutus Biopharma and Genevant Sciences, said in one of the suits that Moderna infringed on a patent for technology utilized in the COVID-19 vaccine, while another company, Alnylam Pharmaceuticals, accused both Moderna and Pfizer of violating a related patent.
Moderna is also embroiled in a battle with the National Institutes of Health, which says its scientists were wrongly left off of Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine patent. The new suit does not concern that patent, Moderna said.
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