Moderna Inc.

MRNA 1.87%

said it wouldn’t enforce patents related to its experimental Covid-19 vaccine while the pandemic continues and is willing to license the patents to others after the pandemic.

The Cambridge, Mass., company has at least seven U.S. patents related to its vaccine, including one for the invention of a vaccine using a gene-based technology to protect against a family of coronaviruses. The family of viruses includes the one that causes Covid-19.

The move means other drugmakers or governments wouldn’t need to fear that Moderna would try to block any other Covid-19 vaccines the company argues are based on any proprietary technology.

“We’re quite studiously not asserting infringement,” Moderna President Stephen Hoge said in an interview. “We’re doing the opposite of creating that kind of anxiety for folks. We’re not interested in using that IP to decrease the number of vaccines available in a pandemic.”

Dr. Hoge said Moderna decided to publicly commit to not enforcing its patent rights during the pandemic because company had been getting questions from investors about its patents.

Moderna is a young biotech company that has sought to develop drugs and vaccines based on a gene-based technology that has never yielded an approved product. However, it seeks to furnish one of the first Covid-19 shots that would help people return to schools, businesses and other establishments.

The company’s experimental Covid-19 vaccine works by injecting molecular couriers, known as messenger RNA or mRNA, to teach human cells to make the spike protein found on the surface of the new coronavirus.

This, in turn, is designed to induce an immune response that can build people’s defenses if they later encounter the virus.

The company is testing whether the vaccine safely protects people from Covid-19 in a large, Phase 3 trial. It could have initial results in the coming weeks, with the potential for government authorization of the vaccine’s use if results are positive.

Understanding Coronavirus

Moderna said that beyond its own vaccine, other Covid-19 vaccines in development may use Moderna-patented technologies, though it didn’t specify which ones.

Moderna’s is one of two leading mRNA-based Covid-19 vaccines in advanced testing. The other was developed by

Pfizer Inc.

and partner

BioNTech SE

and also is in late-stage testing. A Pfizer spokeswoman said BioNTech owns patents covering their vaccine.

Moderna has taken out a group of patents to cover its mRNA-based drugs and vaccines. In 2017, the company licensed rights to patents, held by Cellscript LLC and mRNA RiboTherapeutics Inc., that are based on mRNA research conducted at the University of Pennsylvania.

Governments around the world are debating the timeline for offering Covid-19 vaccines to the public, as drugmakers speed up development. WSJ’s Daniela Hernandez explains the potential health risks linked to fast-tracking vaccines. Photo: Siphiwe Sibeko/AP

BioNTech also licensed patents based on the Penn research.

The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases has said it is seeking patent protection for its work related to spike-protein technology, to preserve the U.S. government’s rights and to provide an incentive for commercial partners to develop vaccines and make them available to the public.

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NIAID has said it adopted a nonexclusive licensing approach for these rights to allow multiple vaccine developers to use the technology in proprietary vaccine platforms.

Write to Peter Loftus at peter.loftus@wsj.com

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