IP DONATIONS. Many life sciences companies have made generous donations to alleviate the difficulties arisen in these dire pandemic times (Roche Italia, for example, has donated medicinal products, devices, cash and services).
Some of them, instead, have donated intellectual property: Medtronic, for example, has publicly posted design specifications for its Puritan BennettTM560 (PB560) ventilator “to allow innovators, inventors, start-ups, and academic institutions to leverage their own expertise and resources to evaluate options for rapid ventilator manufacturing”. More than 90,000 people were interested.
IP VOLUNTARY LICENSES. Momentum is also building in favor of the Open Covid-19 Pledge, a program, now also sponsored by the Creative Commons, where patent holders pledge to make their intellectual property available free of charge for uses against Covid-19. The pledge, rather than a donation, takes the form of a royalty-free, non-exclusive, worldwide license under which the intellectual property is made available. Such license may be standard or can be adapted by licensors in various ways.
While many research institutions and private companies are working on a Covid-19 vaccine, the World Health Organization has warned that “it will be important that vaccines go where they are most needed, not simply to the countries that can afford them.” Critical issues not only affect the development of a vaccine, but will also affect its mass production and worldwide distribution. A similar request has been voiced by the European Parliament in its Motion for Resolution dated April 14, 2020, where it “calls on the Commission to ensure that, when EU public money is spent on research, the results of that research are not protected by intellectual property rights and price accessibility to patients is guaranteed for the products developed; stresses the importance of public research and development activities and institutions and of cooperation at international level, while expressing concerns over the dominant role of multinationals in the pharmaceutical sector; urges all pharmaceutical companies to pool their data and knowledge in a collective effort to identify, test, develop and manufacture treatments to curb the disease”.
IP MANDATORY LICENSES. Such voluntary licenses are completely different from the mandatory licenses that section 31 of the TRIPS agreement allows in case of a “national emergency or other circumstances of extreme urgency”. While the right holder would need to receive “adequate remuneration”, this instrument would allow governments to obtain a non-exclusive and non-assignable license to use the patent without the authorization of the right holder.
It is thus possible that the extreme circumstances in which we are living may also bring completely new scenarios in the intellectual property landscape.