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VERIFY: 'Coronavirus patents' are from older viruses, not current strain

A bit of confusion around the names of certain coronaviruses has led to larger claims that governments have known about this virus for years.
Credit: CDC

Have governments and researchers known about this new strain of coronavirus for years? Claims online point to patents as proof that they have.

A similar claim was sent to our VERIFY team by viewer Bruce C.

“The coronavirus is man-made and patented,” he wrote. “CORONAVIRUS PROTEINS AND ANTIGENS Publication number: 20160339097.”

It's a real patent titled “Coronavirus proteins and antigens,” and was requested in 2014.

There’s also this patent, from Justia patents, filed in 2015. It also talks about coronavirus.

But there’s a key misunderstanding to these claims and social media posts.

THE QUESTION:

Are there patents showing that the coronavirus was known about and being studied by governments for years?

THE ANSWER:

The term “coronavirus” is actually a classification for a bunch of viruses in the same family. It’s not the name for one specific virus. SARS, MERS and the new virus “2019-nCoV” are all strains of a coronavirus.

The patents above and others like them were submitted by multiple governments and research groups to study vaccines and detection methods of past coronavirus strains.

Put simply, the patents are real, but they are about other coronaviruses, not the one that’s currently spreading.

WHAT WE FOUND:

Corona means crown in Latin.

According to the CDC, this family of viruses is named because of the spikes that form a crown-like ring around the body of the virus.

Any virus in that family is called a coronavirus. The virus spreading from China is a coronavirus -- but it’s not the only one that exists.

Think of it like a company name compared to a product name. Any car built by Ford is a “Ford,” but the individual models, like F-150, Escape, etc., are different.

It’s the same with viruses. “Coronavirus” is the name for all types of similar viruses, but each individual virus has its own name and distinct properties.

The CDC identifies seven that can infect humans. The list includes SARS in 2003, MERS in 2012 and the current strain that’s infecting people: 2019-nCov. That stands for 2019 Novel Coronavirus. It’s a more medical sounding name because no one has given it an official one like SARS or MERS yet.

Credit: CDC


That brings us to the patents.

Hospitals, researchers and governments have patented strains of viruses in the past so they can work on developing vaccines and ways to detect specific strains.

And that’s the key part. They’re different strains.

None of the patents that are being shared online are for the current 2019-nCoV strain. That was only discovered a few weeks ago.

We can VERIFY: 

Patents for previous coronavirus strains exist.

But they’re for vaccines and detection.

And they’re not for the current, new strain that doesn’t have an official name yet.

Something you’d like VERIFIED? Click here to submit your story.  

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