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Moderna sues Pfizer-BioNTech over COVID-19 vaccine patents

Moderna said Friday it is suing Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech, alleging patent infringement over the COVID-19 vaccine.  

The move sets up a showdown between two major vaccine makers that together have helped blunt the impacts of the pandemic in the United States and other countries.  

“We believe that Pfizer and BioNTech unlawfully copied Moderna’s inventions, and they have continued to use them without permission,” Moderna Chief Legal Officer Shannon Thyme Klinger said in a statement.  

Moderna is seeking compensation from Pfizer for the use of technology that Moderna says it pioneered. 

The move also indicates Moderna views the pandemic as being in a different phase. The company said that it previously pledged not to enforce it patents while the pandemic continued. But, it said, “in March 2022, when the collective fight against COVID-19 entered a new phase and vaccine supply was no longer a barrier to access in many parts of the world, Moderna updated its pledge.” 

It now says that while it will not enforce its patents in 92 low and middle-income countries, it will in other parts of the world.  

Pfizer said it would “vigorously” defend against the suit. 

“Pfizer/BioNTech has not yet fully reviewed the complaint but we are surprised by the litigation given the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine was based on BioNTech’s proprietary mRNA technology and developed by both BioNTech and Pfizer,” Pfizer said in a statement. “We remain confident in our intellectual property supporting the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine and will vigorously defend against the allegations of the lawsuit.”

Moderna said that Pfizer infringed on work on its mRNA vaccine technology dating back as early as 2010, well before the pandemic began.  

“This foundational platform, which we began building in 2010, along with our patented work on coronaviruses in 2015 and 2016, enabled us to produce a safe and highly effective COVID-19 vaccine in record time after the pandemic struck,” Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel said in a statement.  

Moderna said it is seeking compensation but not to block the use of the Pfizer vaccine.  

“Recognizing the need to ensure continued access to these lifesaving vaccines, Moderna is not seeking to remove [the Pfizer vaccine] from the market and is not asking for an injunction to prevent its future sale,” Moderna said.  

Updated at 10:21 a.m.

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