In case of crisis, patent protection must be done from behind

Categories: Asma Raza

Currently, doctors with few medical devices have done their best to get what they need to continue treating patients with coronavirus. A team of Italian doctors came up with the idea of ​​using a 3D printer to remedy the lack of valves in the CPAP hoods used to supply oxygen to patients. It worked, but the valve company was unhappy and may have to file a patent infringement application. Chasing doctors in the middle of a pandemic is not a good idea, and society quickly made it clear that it has no plans to prosecute doctors. In fact, it makes coins available to health professionals free of charge.

However, the basic question is real: what happens if the development of the corona virus conflicts with intellectual property law? Many medical technologies are heavily protected by patents, which gives companies the legal right to prevent others from producing identical or similar products.

There are good reasons to protect patents: who would like to invest time and money in inventing something if everyone could freely copy it without incurring the same costs?

In the midst of the coronavirus crisis, however, it is imperative to produce essential material as quickly as possible. And patent holders do not always have the ability to build everything we need. (This appeared to be the case with the Italian valve manufacturer.)

In theory, we can temporarily suspend related intellectual property rights and allow anyone who wants to start producing the necessary goods to do so in the event of a defect. It’s tempting, but it’s probably not the way to go either.

First, there are quality problems: there must be some kind of central authority that coordinates production, probably in communication with the companies that normally manufacture the products.

In addition – and perhaps more fundamentally – there is a problem of motivation. If we get used to suspending intellectual property rights over the technology needed in times of crisis, we limit the incentive for companies to accurately develop the technology needed in the event of a crisis. Even now, a chain effect can occur. For example, let’s think of all the companies that are working on developing tests and vaccines against coronavirus. You need to be sure that, at some point, you can take advantage of these discoveries.

At the same time, we need a way to ensure the safety of companies capable of manufacturing the necessary medical devices without fear of patent litigation.

Under this program, the government could purchase patents for medical devices and make them public. This would allow manufacturers – under government coordination – to manufacture these devices and meet the growing demand during these times.

The purchase should not even be permanent – for example, it could expire at the end of a national crisis.

Of course, there are price challenges to ensure that patent holders participate fairly. Kremer offers an auction system among potential manufacturers of patented products, with the government paying the largest bid and margin to include social value to the patentee. Most patents acquired in this way would be owned and licensed by the government, but some would have been sold to large buyers at fixed prices to promote fair deals.

For temporary purchases during a pandemic, we can use a simpler and faster mechanism by assessing the value of patents based on pre-pandemic prices, and then paying a high score to explain the benefits of publishing the property. intellectual. .

As with all government programs, this would require monitoring. We need to make sure that the value does not only reach well-connected companies or investors, buyers and sellers.

We may also be concerned about companies combining the system with low quality patents. If the government offers patents related to the corona virus, researchers of this type will quickly leave the woods.

So we need scientists and engineers to determine which patents are truly in the public interest and which are worth buying. And of course, this should not be underestimated – it only makes sense in exceptional cases to take over private property and make it accessible to the public, if only temporarily. However, these are not normal hours.


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