- A long road ahead
- Exclusivity of patents
- Solutions beforehand
- Creating a Patent pool
- Significance of Patent pool
- Ultimate aim of patents
Needed: a pandemic patent pool
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The World Intellectual Property Day observed on 26 April is not merely a day for celebration, but one for reflection and dedication. The ongoing pandemic reflects upon the role of intellectual property (IP) in the ongoing health crisis and to dedicate IP to finding a solution.
A long road ahead:
- The purpose of creating and recognising patent rights is for the common public good, i.e., innovations should be made public in exchange for a limited monopoly.
- Thus, patents need to be disclosed to the public in order to enable further research.
- For human life to become normal again, vaccines or medicines are the only permanent solutions.
- However, even by conservative estimates, it will take at least 6-10 months for any vaccine/drug to be available.
- Even when approval for marketing of a vaccine/drug is granted, it will be impossible for it to be made instantly available across the world.
- This is because even after approval for commercial production is granted, say, in one country, in order for the product to be available to the rest of the world, approvals will be required in each and every country.
- Then countries will have to gear up for instant manufacturing and marketing of the drug.
- This requires massive efforts by private players, governments and international organisations & continuous dialogue among innovators, manufacturers and supply chains.
Exclusivity of Patents:
- With the outbreak of COVID-19, there are several innovations around the world.
- All these innovations may be the subject matter of patent applications around the world and it will take a few years before patents are even granted.
- However, friction already exists among various stakeholders.
- For instance, one country made attempts to obtain exclusive rights to a vaccine being developed.
- On the other hand, there are also collaborations taking place.
- The question that arises is whether the exclusivity that is recognised by patent rights will be detrimental to society.
- Pandemics need disruptive solutions and require governments and international organisations to arrive at a consensus in advance to ensure that the system is ready.
- Creating hindrances through exclusivity claims, in the wake of a pandemic, will result in dividing countries, corporations and international organisations.
- This will not benefit patients and the world as a whole.
- If patent owners create impediments on the strength of patent rights, the world will start despising patents and that is not a situation IP owners ought to be in.
- Under the TRIPS (Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights) regime, there are several tools such as compulsory licensing that are available to ensure access to medicines.
- To protect the sanctity and integrity of patent systems, and in order to ensure that anti-IP sentiment is not generated globally, answers need to be found within the existing regime.
- In exceptional circumstances such as these, there is a likelihood that societies may resort to extreme steps to protect themselves.
- Before such ideas are floated, solutions should be created.
Creating a Patent pool:
- One method by which aggregation and dissemination of innovative products can be ensured is by creating a patent pool.
- Patent pools are usually effective in aggregating, administering and licensing patents related to specific areas of technology.
- Such pools are usually managed by a central agency and the patents which become part of the pool are readily made available for licensing.
- Some pools even publish the royalty rates payable for such licences.
- Anyone who wishes to obtain a licence will be able to approach the pool, agree to the terms, and begin to manufacture and sell the products.
- At the moment, individual efforts are being made by research organisations to create their own pools.
- A more fruitful endeavour would be to create a global pool of COVID-19-related innovations, or innovations related to rare pandemics, in respect of vaccines and medicines.
- This could be managed by a trustworthy international organisation.
Significance of Patent pool:
- All countries ought to have the right to implement these innovations without further permission from the patent-holders and without resorting to provisions such as compulsory licensing, state acquisition, etc.
- Even if royalties are at a minimal level, the revenues would still be in billions of dollars owing to the large swathes of the population affected by the pandemic, who will need to be administered these products.
- Creation of a pool and immediate licensing will ensure that there are hundreds of manufacturers across the world.
- As a result, vaccines and medicines will be quickly available.
- Some part of the royalties could then be disbursed to patent owners on a periodic basis and some part could be retained to fund further research to deal with such pandemics in future.
Ultimate aim of patents:
- The world has to come out of this crisis quickly and patents ought to accelerate rather than impede the path.
- Pooling of patent resources is also in line with the Doha Declaration on Public Health which is a part of the TRIPS agreement.
- This declaration recognises the need for taking measures to ‘protect public health’ and ‘promote access to medicines’.
- It requires Public-private partnerships (PPP) to be scaled up.
- Such a pool needs the cooperation of not just countries and international organisations but also the hundreds of researchers, innovators, companies and universities involved.
The pandemic like COVID-19 needs exceptional solutions, global coordination and pooling of technology and resources for the sake of humanity. Creation of the ‘PPP-pandemic patent pool’ at a global level, to pool all innovations should be worked upon for combating the crisis.