A health worker collects a nose swab sample for a PCR test
The claim COVID-19 tests were patented years before the virus existed is a fallacy. Image by EPA

Claims COVID tests invented before virus emerged are patently wrong

William Summers July 12, 2022

COVID-19 diagnostic tests were patented in 2015, years before the disease was officially discovered.


False. The patent was filed in May 2020 but referred to "related" applications from earlier years which do not mention COVID-19.

A scientific patent application lodged in 2015 is being used as supposed evidence COVID-19 diagnostic tests were invented before the SARS-Cov-2 virus was discovered.

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”.

Mr Rothschild does not appear to have any connection to the famous Rothschild banking dynasty, which is the subject of conspiracy theories rooted in anti-Semitism.

The Rothschild & Co company, chaired by Alexandre de Rothschild, said in October 2020 that “there is no link between Rothschild & Co and the person named in the patent”.

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.

Professor Andrew Christie, chair of intellectual property at Melbourne Law School, told AAP FactCheck the earliest filing date in a set of related patents is referred to as the “priority date“.

“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.

Similar claims COVID-19 tests were patented before the virus was discovered have been fact-checked here, here, here, here and here.

The Verdict

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.

AAP FactCheck is an accredited member of the International Fact-Checking Network. To keep up with our latest fact checks, follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

All information, text and images included on the AAP Websites is for personal use only and may not be re-written, copied, re-sold or re-distributed, framed, linked, shared onto social media or otherwise used whether for compensation of any kind or not, unless you have the prior written permission of AAP. For more information, please refer to our standard terms and conditions.