CureVac has filed a patent lawsuit in Germany against BioNTech over its use of mRNA technology, marking one of the first known cases of a company going to court amid the fierce competition to develop a vaccine against Covid-19.
The German-based company is seeking "fair compensation" from BioNTech and two subsidiaries for infringement of its intellectual property rights, it said on Tuesday.
Chief Executive Franz-Werner Haas did not rule out further legal action against BioNTech partner Pfizer or mRNA vaccine maker Moderna.
BioNTech said its work was original and said in a statement: "We will vigorously defend it against all allegations of patent infringement."
CureVac has filed a patent lawsuit in Germany against BioNTech DADO RUVIC
CureVac Chief Executive Franz-Werner Haas did not rule out further legal action against BioNTech partner Pfizer or mRNA vaccine maker Moderna Jacob King
CureVac said that its claim to intellectual property rights was based on more than two decades of work on mRNA technology, some of which was used by BioNTech and Pfizer for the development and sale of their Comirnaty coronavirus vaccine.
Mr Haas said: "Many years of our research have also contributed to the success of the mRNA vaccines and made that possible. From our point of view, it is self-evident to respect the associated property rights."
Mr Haas did not provide a value that CureVac, which posted a 2021 loss of £353million (€412million), would see as fair compensation.
BioNTech expects up to £14.5billion (€17billion euros) in vaccine revenue this year, down from last year's £16.2billion (€19billion) with the pandemic easing.
CureVac said it was not seeking an injunction, nor intending to take legal action that would impede the production, sale or distribution of the vaccine.
At the height of the pandemic, it would not have occurred to CureVac to point out patent infringement, but now that there is better control over the pandemic, it believed it was the right time to do so, Mr Haas said.
The court in Dusseldorf, where CureVac submitted its lawsuit, is yet to comment.
Mr Haas was coy about potential further legal action, indicating that first a basis was needed regarding CureVac's fair share in product development and sales in Germany and how that would be appropriately valued.
Asked whether he would rule out legal action against Moderna, he said: "We are not ruling anything out. We are looking at it very carefully."