Needed: a pandemic patent pool
This will give all countries the right to implement innovations without further permission from patent-holders
- Every April 26, we celebrate World Intellectual Property Day.
- This year, it was not a day for celebration, but one for reflection and dedication.
- It provided us an opportunity to reflect upon the role of intellectual property (IP) in the ongoing health crisis and 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., innovation 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.
- Pandemics need disruptive solutions. Governments and international organisations need 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.
- 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 an anti-IP sentiment is not generated globally, answers need to be found within the existing regime.
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.
- 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. Such pools are prevalent in, for instance, standard essential patents related to telecom and digital innovations.
- 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.
- 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’.
- Public-private partnerships (PPP) need to be scaled up. Creation of the ‘PPP-pandemic patent pool’ at a global level, to pool all innovations, is the way forward. Let us not wait any longer.