Patent Knowledge: helping in the fight against coronavirus

The EPO is constantly sharing knowledge with researchers to fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. The recent outbreak of the Omicron variant and new restrictions have emphasised the continued necessity for supporting clinicians, scientists and engineers in these fields.

Back in January 2020, when the term “COVID-19” had not yet been coined, the EPO’s Principal Directorate Patent Knowledge was asked to produce preliminary statistics on patents relating to vaccines against coronavirus infections.

With the support of EPO examiners, the first basic search strategies were set up with the keyword “coronaviridae” and the additional CPC classification code C12N2770 relating to the new virus, new viral components and uses of single-stranded RNA virus. The timeline of patenting activity clearly showed peaks in patent publications which followed the patterns found in earlier outbreaks such as SARS in 2002 and MERS in 2012 (see Figure 1).


Figure 1: Development of patent families classified in C12N2770 1980-2021  

A corresponding peak in patent filings for technologies designed to combat COVID-19 was also found. In fact, thanks to the provisions for early publication in the Chinese patent law, it was already possible to identify the first patent publications from the China National Intellectual Property Administration at an early stage.

During the spring and early summer of 2020, the EPO started work on what it called its “coronavirus webpages”. Patent examiners from relevant fields joined forces with the patent data and analytics team and, pooling their search and subject-matter expertise, they explored relevant areas and generated model queries to be added to these webpages. The purpose was to collect and compile datasets of patent publications covering diagnostics, therapeutics, vaccines, detection, treatment and prevention in relation to COVID-19. The model queries could then be run in Espacenet as and when desired, each time giving live search results useful for researchers working in the field.

The “Fighting coronavirus” webpages containing the first model queries went live on 6 July 2020. They were followed by sections on Vaccines and therapeutics, Diagnostics and analytics, Informatics, and Technologies for the new normal, which includes masks, disinfection procedures and apps for contact tracing. The latest addition is a dedicated section on Inventors against coronavirus.

The datasets comprise directed searches in Espacenet which will retrieve an up-to-date result list for, say, therapeutics against COVID-19 (see Figure 2).


Figure 2: Extract from Espacenet result list 

Users can also access hundreds of focused Espacenet searches and statistical analyses of geographical activity. For example, you can use the Filters feature to check the top applicant countries in terms of numbers of filings, as well as top inventors (see Figure 3 for top CPC subgroups and applicant countries on therapeutics for COVID-19). You can then download the Espacenet search statements, adapt them for your own research and re-run them. This can help you understand not only the state of the art but also how current inventions differ from what has been done before.


Figure 3: Patent filings worldwide on candidate therapies for COVID-19 by subgroup and country 

COVID-19 hasn’t been defeated yet. The situation is still highly dynamic and the “Fighting coronavirus” platform will continue to be updated for as long as is necessary. In the meantime, the EPO’s Principal Directorate Patent Knowledge will continue to collaborate with EPO examiners and shine the spotlight on the relevant areas of the patent landscape and support users in retrieving the patent documents that will help them in the fight against the pandemic.