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NEEDED: A PANDEMIC PATENT POOL

Introduction

Every April 26, we celebrate World Intellectual Property Day.

This year 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.

Vaccines are the only way 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. Even by conservative estimates, it will take at least 6-10 months for any vaccine/drug to be available.

Blockades in making Vaccines Available everywhere

  • 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.
  • For this to happen, continuous dialogue has to take place among innovators, manufacturers and supply chains.
  • This requires massive efforts by private players, governments and international organisations.
  • Innovations may be the subject matter of patent applications around the world.

Will patents create roadblocks or is there a solution?

  • 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.
  • 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.

Creating a patent pool – Way Forward

  • 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.
  • 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.’
  • 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.
  • 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.
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September 2022
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