The name Biotech Institute implies a sense of professionalism, a scientific background, and possibly an education or research center of some sort, but no one seems to know for sure. Current listings that provide any form of contact for the company lead to their self-proclaimed lawyer, and empty buildings. Though their website uses the vague description of a therapeutic product development company, if you try to learn anything else, you will quickly find that there’s very little out there for the public to see.
One reporter who went looking into the mysterious patent holder even went as far as to show up to the address in question, and the only response that she received was to contact Gary Hiller. Hiller is the Chief Operating Officer and President of Phytecs, a cannabis biotech startup with ties to Tony Coel, who is California’s former congressional aid, and as far as anyone can tell, is in no way associated with Biotech Institute.
Despite several attempts to track down and one email response, she never truly uncovered the truth behind the company’s motivations, history, or future plans, which has some cannabis enthusiasts ringing the alarm. Warning consumers, growers, and anyone else who wants to enter the cannabis industry that these patents could potentially harm them down the road, through licensing fees and restrictions.
Some even go so far as to say that the patents that Biotech Institute currently holds could eventually cost anyone and every company that wishes to work directly with the marijuana plant in any way, which is why it is so important to highlight what this patent says and to know that it’s not the only one in their possession.
Who Runs Biotech Institute?
According to its website, Biotech Institute LLC “develops groundbreaking, novel, and sustainable therapeutic products by optimizing the naturally occurring resources found within all living organisms.”
But what does that mean, exactly? And who stands behind Biotech Institute? The short answer is nobody really knows. And they didn’t reply to my emails—at least not at first.
The website’s “Who We Are” page doesn’t name any officers or employees of the company, or divulge any ownership information. But it does list an address in an office park outside Thousand Oaks, California.
A Powerful ‘Utility Patent’
While plant patents cover one distinct strain, utility patents like #9095554B2 are far more expansive and cover wide ranges of plant characteristics. It’s the utility patents that most concern those worried about a Big Ag takeover of commercial cannabis cultivation.
Mowgli Holmes has claimed that Biotech Institute’s existing patents could give them leverage over “almost anybody who comes in contact with the plant.” But given Holmes’ spotty track record for transparency, I thought it best to seek out a few additional expert opinions.
According to Kevin McKernan, an expert from the Human Genome Project, the technical jargon translates to the company owning every type two cannabis plant, which means weed strains that produce significant amounts of both THC and CBD, as well as any that don’t have the popular myrcene as a most prominent terpene. All of which is an incredibly broad range of features that could relate to most of the different types of weed that we all know and love so much today.
Who are The Inventors?
In addition to Patent #9095554B2, Biotech Institute also holds cannabis patents covering methods of analysis and classification systems; utility patents covering plants with novel chemistries; plant patents covering particular cultivars; cannabis propagation methods; and composition claims.
This includes six separate utility patents (like #9095554B2) that cover broad ranges of plant characteristics. And in just the past year they’ve applied for additional patents tied to specific cannabis strains, including Lemon Crush, Cake Batter, Primo Cherry, Holy Crunch, Rainbow Gummeez, Guava Jam, Grape Lollipop, and Raspberry Punch.
Biotech’s dream team
Individually and together, the three inventors listed on Biotech Institute’s first patent – Michael D. Backes, Mark Anthony Lewis, and Matthew W. Giese, have made huge contributions to the world of cannabis science. They have a legacy of research and innovation that they’re justifiably proud of, and one that has provided significant benefits to cannabis breeders, growers, consumers, and patients around the world.
Is This Something That Consumers Need to Worry About?
Other specialists who have reviewed the first patent says that the terms are so vague that they likely would not stand up in a court of law, but there is no way to guarantee that as the outcome as there has never been a case precedent set to make such promises. Now, that doesn’t mean we all need to start sweating bullets and hoarding weed in case of a massive hit to the market, but it does mean that we should take special care and pay attention to this and how it plays out. Unfortunately, if the patent were to be accepted as is, it could be licensing fees for every producer, cultivator, extractor, consumer, dispensary owner, and anyone else who is involved with legal marijuana plant product, which is a terrifying idea considering the market isn’t exactly competitive price-wise as it is. Not only would it cost customers more, but it could also create a stalling of the industry, as companies scramble to figure out how to make up the difference in profit. For now, we can rest easy and enjoy the many benefits of legal weed, but the future of the industry remains uncertain, which is why we need to push for transparency and regulation that isn’t prohibiting moving forward.
We Need To Secure Seeds As Commons
Until now, it has not been possible to legally protect seeds as a commons. If breeders forego variety protection and grant unrestricted access to their varieties, they risk others converting the varieties into a private good. Commons could be created but not protected from private appropriation.
Let’s use open-source licensing against patents and plant variety protection.
We need an open-source seed licence as a way to prevent patents and variety protection. This counters the approach of the private seeds industry that is based on intellectual property rights. An open-source licence would ensure that seeds can be used by everyone. This also would apply to enhancements to the seeds.