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The Potential of Patent Pools for Pandemic Response

From Beijing to Berlin, COVID-19 is the one thing making headlines in every country. While doctors and nurses are focused on saving lives, legislators and regulators are struggling to keep the flow of lifesaving medicines and machinery moving. It is a fluid environment where traditional norms and the “old ways” of doing things are coming under intense scrutiny.

As the race for vaccines and effective treatments moves forward, it is creating an intense storm where radical solutions, such as patent pools and government use licenses, are quickly gaining momentum. While there is potential in these solutions, regulatory bodies should be extremely cautious in their application, as there is equal potential to grind the necessary medical and pharmaceutical innovations to a halt.

Patent Pools and the WHO

Costa Rica and other countries are urging the World Health Organization to establish voluntary patent pools. Ostensibly, participants in these pools would have the ability to access information and technologies quickly and with little hassle. These pools would allow for the production of generic products at considerable volume.

In the case of a vaccine or therapeutic product for COVID-19, this approach could save thousands, if not millions of lives. Specifically, it would make it possible for poorer nations to access these products at an affordable price immediately.

This is the primary reason that the WHO has offered its support for the development of patent pools. As the crisis evolves, these pools could become a treasure trove of lifesaving knowledge and expertise.

The Pitfalls of Patent Pools Possible Solutions

While the lifesaving potential of patent pools is enormous, the pitfalls are equally frightening. Governments that openly infringe on the intellectual property rights of patent holders risk stymying the very innovation their citizens are counting on. In the rush to protect the public health and get economies moving, one wrong step could trigger a meltdown that shuts down the innovation and development that countries are banking on.

One possible solution is to limit the scope of patent pools to those developments related explicitly to COVID-19. A significant amount of the research and development of these treatments, diagnostic tools, and vaccines is currently bankrolled by government entities. Canada, the UK, US, and other countries are pouring billions of dollars into these endeavors. Thus, there is a limited financial risk for companies who have the desire and expertise required to find effective solutions.

In fact, this path forward is already partially paved. The Medicines Patent Pool (MPP) already has the framework and UN-supported funding in place to facilitate the sharing of COVID-19 related patents. However, previous efforts highlighted significant problems with the MPP. Notably, that pools did not eliminate problems with access to medications and equipment. It does appear that the MPP recognizes this and is prepared to implement changes to streamline the process and protect the rights of intellectual property holders.

Such changes could soothe the desires of these patent holders to pull out and pursue litigation. And, while the financial incentives of participation in the MPP are limited, the long-term goodwill and positive publicity that will come from the successful development and mass production of a vaccine, therapy, or product that saves people from the ravages of COVID-19 will be invaluable. This is one situation where the risks are far less than the potential reward, and participation is a gamble that medical patent holders should consider.

We encourage you to contact Global Patent Solutions at (877) 299-7678 to explore any patent-related opportunities you are considering.