Moderna claimed Pfizer and BioNTech’s vaccine infringes on patents Moderna filed several years ago protecting the technology behind its jab.
The company filed lawsuits in both US federal court and a German court seeking damages.
In a statement, Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel said: “We are filing these lawsuits to protect the innovative mRNA technology platform that we pioneered, invested billions of dollars in creating, and patented during the decade preceding the COVID-19 pandemic.”
But Pfizer said it would “vigorously defend against the allegations” of the lawsuit.
Moderna and Pfizer’s two-shot vaccines both use mRNA technology which injects a genetic code for the spike protein that coats the surface of coronavirus.
This instructs the body’s cells to make harmless spike copies of the virus to train the immune system to recognise the real virus.
But Moderna said it believes its rivals’ vaccine infringes on patents it had filed between 2010 and 2016.
In October 2020, the pharma giant pledged not to enforce its Covid-related patents while the pandemic continued.
But it changed this stance in March 2022, saying that access to vaccines was no longer an issue in many parts of the world.
It said that it would not enforce patents in 92 middle and low-income countries, but would in other markets.
“We believe that Pfizer and BioNTech unlawfully copied Moderna’s inventions, and they have continued to use them without permission," said Moderna Chief Legal Officer Shannon Thyme Klinger.
The suit alleges that Pfizer and BioNtech infringed intellectual property in two ways. One of these involves the mRNA structure of the jab, which Moderna claims its scientists began developing in 2010.
The second alleged infringement involves the coding of a full-length spike protein that Moderna says its scientists developed.
A Pfizer spokesperson said: “Pfizer/BioNTech has not yet fully reviewed the complaint but we are surprised by the litigation given the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine was based on BioNTech’s proprietary mRNA technology and developed by both BioNTech and Pfizer.
“We remain confident in our intellectual property supporting the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine and will vigorously defend against the allegations of the lawsuit.”