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Moderna Sues Pfizer Over Patent Infringement


Ampoules with Moderna COVID-19 vaccine | Image by Shutterstock

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Biotech company Moderna filed lawsuits against Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech on Friday, alleging that the two companies copied technology Moderna had developed years before the pandemic to produce their version of the COVID vaccine.

Both Moderna and Pfizer are well-known for their COVID-19 vaccines, which are among the primary options for people in the United States.

One of the lawsuits was filed in Massachusetts, where Moderna is based, and the other was filed in Germany, where BioNTech is located.

Moderna, which had never sold a product before it produced the COVID-19 vaccine, filed three patents between 2011-2016 related to its messenger RNA, or mRNA, technology. Moderna claimed that the two companies named in the lawsuit infringed on these patents.

Jerica Pitts, a Pfizer spokesperson, said both companies were surprised by the litigation and asserted that they were confident in their own intellectual property supporting the vaccine.

BioNTech claimed in a statement that its “work is original, and we will vigorously defend against all allegations of patent infringement.”

Moderna is not seeking an injunction to prohibit the sale and distribution of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. The company is instead seeking damages, including royalties and lost profits incurred since March. The company had pledged not to enforce its patents during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic emergency.

Christopher Ridley, a Moderna spokesperson, said the company would leave it to the courts to determine the appropriate amount of damages. Pfizer reportedly earned a record $38.6 billion from its COVID vaccine in 2021, while Moderna earned $17.7 billion from its vaccine.

So far this year, Moderna has reported $10.4 billion in earnings from the vaccine, and Pfizer has reported $22 billion.

The lawsuits could potentially drag on for several years, with the possibility of appeals even after a verdict is reached. One analyst with the securities firm SVB stated that the history of such disputes over intellectual property “suggests the most likely outcome would be modest royalties paid by both companies, with little net favorable financial impact for anyone but the law firms involved.”

However, the lawsuits are significant in that they will establish ownership of the technology and determine who will receive royalties in the future from other companies who may wish to use it.

The lawsuits will not affect the availability of the COVID-19 vaccines. In fact, both Moderna and Pfizer have recently submitted requests for authorization for new vaccines targeting the Omicron subvariant responsible for most new coronavirus cases in the U.S.   

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