Fact Check: Patents Do NOT Mean Deadly Diseases And Viruses Were Created Or Invented In A Lab

Fact Check

  • by: Ryan Cooper
Fact Check: Patents Do NOT Mean Deadly Diseases And Viruses Were Created Or Invented In A Lab

Do patents accurately suggest that deadly diseases and viruses were created or invented in a lab? No, that's not true: Just because there is a patent for something does not mean it works. Likewise, patents for diseases and viruses do not mean these medical problems were lab-made. Instead, the patents are for possible treatments or vaccines, some of which were tested but did not work.

The claims originated from a post (archived here) published by Brian Edward on February 28, 2020. It opened:

AIDS
US-Patent 5676977

H1N1
US-Patent 8835624

Ebola
US-Patent 20120251502

Swine Flu
US-Patent CA2741523 A1

BSE
US-Patent 0070031450 A1

ZIKA
ATTC VR-84
(Rockefeller Foundation)

SARS
US-Patent 7897744 & 8506968

Coronavirus
US-Patent 10130701

Users on social media saw this:

The post's publisher said in the caption that these viruses and diseases "have been proven to be modified in a lab by humans." The claim is misleading, and this list of random patent numbers does not prove that the maladies were created in a laboratory.

For example, the first patent number listed on the graphic has been the subject of several Internet claims that suggest the U.S. government owns a patent for the cure to AIDS, as Metabunk.org has reported. According to the site:

1. It's not a cure for a AIDS. It's just a patent for some speculative use of colloidal sliver to zap the HIV virus which has never been shown to work.
2. The government does not own the patent. It's owned by alternative medicine salesman Marvin S. Antelman​

Scientists do not believe that HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, was lab-made. According to the AIDS Institute, they believe the virus originated in a type of chimpanzee that infected humans when they came into contact with their infected blood.

Here are links to the other patents referenced on the graphic, and a description for what each actually represents:

  • H1N1 (US-Patent 8835624) - Provides an Influenza A H1N1 subtype-specific aptamer that "can be effective in detection of H1N1 influenza virus." The patent is not actually for the H1N1 virus.
  • Ebola (US-Patent 20120251502) - Compositions and methods including and related to the Ebola Bundibugyo virus (EboBun). The patent application does not mean the U.S. patent holder invented Ebola.
  • Swine Flu (US-Patent CA2741523 A1) - Compositions and methods including and related to the Ebola Bundibugyo virus (EboBun) are provided. (Note: This is another patent related to Ebola not swine flu as the graphic listed, and again this application does not imply proof of the origin of Ebola.)
  • BSE (US-Patent 0070031450 A1) - We could not find a patent for this number, but Fullfact.org reported, "There is a now-abandoned patent, with an application number only one digit away from this. This wasn't a patent for BSE (Bovine spongiform encephalopathy, commonly known as mad cow disease) itself, but for a type of animal vaccine that included a protein resistant to changes caused by BSE."
  • ZIKA (ATTC VR-84 Rockefeller Foundation) - This is a typo. It should be ATCC VR-84, and ATCC is a scientific research organization in the United States that "has made the Zika virus (ATCC® VR-84™) strain MR766 available for research purposes to qualified scientists and laboratories, on a global basis, through a highly vetted process." Separately, according to a statement on its website, The Rockefeller Foundation does not own the patent for the Zika virus.
  • SARS (US-Patent 7897744 & 8506968) - The first is a patent for the genome sequence of the SARS virus. In contrast, the second is a now-expired patent for "a composition and method for reducing the occurrence and severity of infectious diseases." These two patents have nothing to do with the origins of SARS.
  • Coronavirus (US-Patent 10130701) - As Lead Stories reported in a previous article, this specific patent does not involve a strain of coronavirus affecting humans. It is unrelated to the novel coronavirus, which originated in Wuhan, China.

Infodemic.blog is a website that tries to educate the public by separating fact from fiction related to the novel coronavirus. It has created a series of informational tweets about how to trace claims and find better coverage online. It advises that readers should be careful not to assume a list of patents explains the origins of anything:

Lead Stories has reported on viral hoaxes and claims about patents before. The conspiracy theories likely stem from confusion about why someone would patent a virus. This used to be common practice until a few years ago because most researchers wanted to protect their discoveries and make sure nobody else could block the development of vaccines by claiming ownership of a particular virus. A Supreme Court decision in 2012 ruled, "Genes and the information they encode are not patent eligible under §101 simply because they have been isolated from the surrounding genetic material."

The ruling mostly ended the practice.

Similar conspiracies related to patented viruses appeared in 2014 about Ebola, as debunked by Snopes. In 2013, there was also confusion about MERS virus patents.

Regardless, a patent filing is not evidence of the origin of a virus or disease, and this graphic contains a lot of misleading information.

Three more deaths in the United States were tied to the novel coronavirus on March 3, 2020, bringing the death toll in America to nine, as the global mortality rate increased to 3.4%, which compares to less than 1% for the flu, according to the Los Angeles Times. Worldwide, more than 3,000 deaths have been blamed on COVID-19, the name for the novel coronavirus.

Other fact checks by Lead Stories concerning coronavirus misinformation include:

Lead Stories is working with the CoronaVirusFacts/DatosCoronaVirus Alliance, a coalition of more than 100 fact-checkers who are fighting misinformation related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Learn more about the alliance here.


  Ryan Cooper

Ryan Cooper, a staff writer and fact-checker for Lead Stories, is the former Director of Programming at CNN International, where he helped shape the network's daily newscasts broadcast to more than 280 million households around the world. He was based at the network's Los Angeles Bureau. There, he managed the team responsible for a three-hour nightly program, Newsroom LA.

Formerly, he worked at the headquarters in Atlanta, and he spent four years at the London bureau. An award-winning producer, Cooper oversaw the network's Emmy Award-winning coverage of the uprising in Egypt in 2011. He also served as a supervising producer during much of the network's live reporting on the Israel-Hezbollah conflict in 2006, for which CNN received an Edward R. Murrow Award.

Read more about or contact Ryan Cooper

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