The company claims that Pfizer-BioNTech copied messenger RNA technology that it had developed years before the coronavirus pandemic.
“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,” said Moderna chief executive Stephane Bancel.
BioNTech did not immediately comment but Pfizer said it would “vigorously defend” itself against the allegations.
“Pfizer-BioNTech has not yet fully reviewed the complaint but we are surprised by the litigation, given the Covid-19 vaccine was based on BioNTech's proprietary mRNA technology and developed by both BioNTech and Pfizer,” a Pfizer representative said.
“We remain confident in our intellectual property supporting the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and will vigorously defend against the allegations of the lawsuit.”
Moderna said it was not asking the courts to pull the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine from the market nor block future sales but was after undetermined monetary damages.
“Pfizer and BioNTech took four different vaccine candidates into clinical testing, which included options that would have steered clear of Moderna's innovative path,” a Moderna statement said.
“Pfizer and BioNTech, however, ultimately decided to proceed with a vaccine that has the same exact mRNA chemical modification to its vaccine.”
The action was filed at the US district court in Massachusetts and the regional court of Duesseldorf in Germany, Moderna said.
Moderna as well as Pfizer and BioNTech, which joined forces on the project, were two of the first groups to develop a vaccine for the novel coronavirus.
Moderna alleges that Pfizer-BioNTech, without permission, copied technology that Moderna had patented between 2010 and 2016, well before Covid emerged in 2019.
The company, based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, has been an innovator in the MRNA vaccine technology that enabled the unprecedented speed in developing the Covid vaccine.
A vaccine approval process that previously took years was completed within months, thanks largely to the breakthrough in mRNA vaccines, which teach human cells how to create a protein that will trigger an immune response.
German company BioNTech had also been working in this field when it teamed up with the US pharma giant Pfizer.
During the pandemic, the US granted emergency use authorisation, first to Pfizer-BioNTech and a week later to Moderna.
As the pandemic raged, Moderna said it would not enforce its Covid-19 patents to help others develop their own vaccines, particularly for low and middle-income countries.
In March, Moderna said it expected companies such as Pfizer and BioNTech to respect its intellectual property rights. It said it would not seek damages for any activity before March 8.
Patent litigation is not uncommon in the early stages of new technology.