The claim is false and based on a misunderstanding of how patent applications work. The 2015 patent application was described as a system “for using, processing, and displaying biometric data” but doesn’t mention COVID-19.
The system’s inventor subsequently patented a COVID-19 test in 2020 and listed his 2015 technology as a related application.
The claim was made in a Facebook post (screenshot here) by a New Zealand-based user on June 23. It includes a screenshot of a patent document filed in 2020 and the words: “ATOMIC BOMBSHELL: ROTHSCHILDS PATENTED COVID-19 BIOMETRIC TEST IN 2015 AND 2017.”
A red box was added to the document to highlight a list of five “related” applications dating back to 2015. The document is a genuine US patent application for what its inventor, Richard A. Rothschild, calls a “System and Method for Testing for COVID-19”.
Richard Rothschild’s invention was described in the application as: “A method is provided for acquiring and transmitting biometric data (e.g. vital signs) of a user, where the data is analyzed to determine whether the user is suffering from a viral infection, such as COVID-19”.
The document shows Mr Rothschild’s application was filed on May 17, 2020, and the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) published it on September 3, 2020.
The claim Mr Rothschild’s patent for COVID-19 tests was filed before the virus existed appears to be based on a misunderstanding about “related” patent applications filed prior to 2020. Mr Rothschild filed five related patent applications between 2015 and 2019.
Those applications each describe a “system and method for using, processing, and displaying biometric data”, but none mention COVID-19.
The term COVID-19 began being used on February 11, 2020, when the World Health Organization officially named the infectious disease caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
The pre-2020 submissions – listed as application numbers 62240783, 15293211, 15495485, 16273141, 16704844 – can be viewed using USPTO’s search portal.
Emeritus Professor Dianne Nicol, a biotechnology patents expert at the University of Tasmania, told AAP FactCheck patents can often be broad in nature before being narrowed at a later date.
“So you might have a broad patent early on, but then you’ll refine it later on to claim very specific things,” Prof Nicol said in a phone interview.
“It might be a patent that claims tools for diagnosing virus infections, and then you narrow it down to tools for diagnosing coronavirus infections, for example.”
Prof Nicol said there was nothing in the pre-2020 patents indicating they were related to COVID-19.
“The later patent specifically refers to COVID-19, but those earlier ones don’t,” she said.
“Subsequently, the inventor may find out additional aspects of their invention (e.g. new applications of it) and want to get patent protection for those as well,” Prof Christie said in an email.
“They can do this by filing a later application that is more specific than the earlier application, e.g. by claiming the invention can be used to test for COVID-19.”
Prof Christie said the claim COVID-19 tests were patented in 2015 and 2017 was “completely false”.
“The earlier applications do not mention COVID-19 – which is, of course, because COVID-19 was not known when those applications were filed,” he said.
The claim COVID-19 diagnostic tests were patented in 2015 and 2017 is false. It is based on a misunderstanding of the way patents are documented.
The patent application the post uses was filed on May 17, 2020, but included references to earlier “related” applications for a viral infection testing system which don’t mention COVID-19.
False – The claim is inaccurate.