Moderna v. Pfizer: What the Patent Infringement Suit Means for Biotech

Posted by Amanda Marzigliano.

The well known Covid vaccine company Moderna sued one of its largest competitors, Pfizer, for patent infringement. Patent infringement is best defined as a “Violation of a patent owners rights with respect to some invention. Unless permitted by the patent owner, one commits patent infringement by making, using, offering to sell, or selling something that contains every element of a patented claim or its equivalent while the patent is in effect” (Cornell Law School). While many companies raced to develop vaccines in 2020, the company pledged not to enforce its patents. Yet in 2022, amended this pledge to begin enforcing its patents in higher-income regions.
Moderna received massive growth and popularity during the 2020 pandemic. But the company is more complex than just a Covid-19 vaccine – and has recently filed a lawsuit against Pfizer, a name that also saw its recognition grow during the pandemic. This was seen by surprise as the move came after Moderna agreed not to file patent suits while manufacturing and advertising Covid vaccines during the peak of the breakout. Peter Loftus, author of the book The Messenger: Moderna, the vaccine, and the Business Gamble That Changed the World, stated, “This lawsuit is no surprise to people who’ve followed the Covid-19 patent situation.” Several patent lawyers and Wall Street analysts speculated that Moderna could someday use its mRNA technology and mRNA in vaccines to sue Pfizer and possibly others, which predicted the lawsuit that was filed.
The best-case scenario would be Moderna proving that Pfizer copied bits of its IP to make its own vaccine because that would financially benefit them. Because they are both very competitive products that came out at the same time and advertise to do the same thing, it could become tricky to say who is in the wrong. But ultimately, Moderna could come away with a portion of Pfizer’s profit, which continues to sell billions of dollars’ worth of Covid-19 vaccines.
In conclusion, there is no doubt that both Moderna and Pfizer saw windfall profits as a result of their Covid vaccinations. Interestingly, while the Biden Administration is currently talking about a windfall tax on oil companies, I do not believe any discussion has come about regarding the record profits drug companies made on the Covid pandemic. Though one can certainly argue that in a capitalist society, such windfall profits can be expected in certain industries from time to time. With respect to the Moderna/Pfizer patent lawsuit, it will ultimately be decided by a judge. Moderna is claiming it is protecting its intellectual property whereas Pfizer is insisting it only utilized its own proprietary technology. Time will tell the outcome of this case.

Amanda is a business student at Seton Hall University, Class of 2025.