BCBusiness + Oyen Wiggs Green & Mutala LLP
Oyen Wiggs

What’s happening in the cannabis industry is “nothing short of a gold rush,” says lawyer Jennifer Marles of Oyen Wiggs


Burgeoning medical marijuana industry 'nothing short of a gold rush'

The impending legalization of cannabis for recreational use is galvanizing entrepreneurs who envision its enormous retail potential. But bona fide medical research into the more than 150 components of the plant promises to have a far greater impact in the treatment of various conditions and diseases including chronic and neuropathic pain and for spasticity due to multiple sclerosis or epilepsy.

In fact, Jennifer Marles, partner with Oyen Wiggs Green & Mutala LLP, calls the burgeoning medical marijuana industry “nothing short of a gold rush, as researchers and pharmaceutical companies come closer to achieving breakthroughs in the formulation of drugs and delivery methods. Certainly with pain management, there is tremendous hope that some components of cannabis may one day replace opioids.”

Major law firms are bracing themselves for an onslaught of medical professionals seeking legal services, and Oyen Wiggs is already fielding inquiries from researchers seeking protection for the work they are undertaking. “While we’re also involved in securing trademarks to protect brands, most of our work is focused on patents,” says Marles.

Ironically, Ottawa’s mandate to legalize pot may cause the phones to ring even more consistently in the near future. “That’s because nobody knows exactly how things will play out, and the regulations concerning handling, sourcing and other matters may become even more complicated than they are now,” says Marles.

Only one thing is certain: law firms that specialize in intellectual property such as Oyen Wiggs are well equipped to protect the best interests of legitimate medical researchers. Oyen Wiggs lawyers have experience in all areas of patent law, including prosecuting patent applications, conducting patentability and freedom-to-operate searches, impeachment and re-examination proceedings, appeals of refused patent applications to the Patent Appeal Board, transactions and licensing, and litigating patent infringement issues.

Since opening for business in 1977, Oyen Wiggs has assisted businesses and entrepreneurs operating at the forefront of innovation in a wide variety of sectors, including the oil patch and high technology. But the patents it has secured have covered inventions such as oil and gas recovery technology and medical devices; how can this apply to a plant?

The simple answer is it can’t. “You can’t patent the components of the cannabis plant because they already exist,” says Marles. “You can, however, patent the processes used to derive formulas from the components as well as delivery methods,” she adds. “Or, if you discover that a component is effective in the treatment of a certain disorder, you can patent that.”

Marles and her team are even prepared, if the circumstances warrant, to patent modified cells that are produced by the genetic engineering of the cannabis plant.

Of course, if one considers the example of Shoppers Drug Mart looking to hire a brand manager for medical marijuana in Toronto (even though the chain is not currently approved by Health Canada to distribute the drug), there are many other aspects of pot legalization that will require businesses to seek legal advice. “The field is getting crowded and very intricate,” says Marles. “But we’re here to help.”