As research laboratories around the world race to develop a COVID-19 vaccine, a challenging balance arises between acquiring intellectual property rights, whilst also serving public needs. Countries, such as the US and the UK, have shown opposition to the idea of an open intellectual property pool, one which would aim for organisations to make their existing research available, under an open license. Currently, the number of participating pharmaceutical corporations remains low, questioning whether the initiative will be successful.
Other organisations, including publicly funded research institutes and universities, are conducting vaccine research through public-private partnerships. If one group were to acquire a viable vaccine before all others, questions arise as to whom shall possess the rights of patents and whether governments are able to compel the patent owners to license the production of the vaccine.
Patent rights provide the creators with a limited-term monopoly, in order to recover the costs of research and development. In order to gain global protection over the rights of the invention, the creator would need to apply for patents in all countries, which could be critical when it comes to the protection of a globally demanded vaccine. A standard patent usually holds a duration of 20 years, allowing the patent holder to protect their exclusive rights, alongside the freedom of choice to license their rights.
However, what happens if patent ownership landed in the hands of a privately-owned company? In this instance, the state may still have the right to acquire the patent in the case of an emergency, such as a global pandemic, however such laws differ between countries. Most members of the World Health Organisation hold compulsory licensing rules, forcing patent owners to license to third parties, in specific circumstances. However, in countries like the UK, Japan and Australia, such rights are often not utilised to their full potential and are rarely granted.
The race to developing the vaccine isn’t just concerned with the saving of lives but also the ownership of patent rights. However, if more organisations signed up to the open COVID pledge it would allow for the concept of an open license to become an accepted and continued practice, with the aim of saving lives.
Be sure to keep a close eye on our reading room for any further updates on the above matter. If you have any questions regarding intellectual property, please do not hesitate to get in touch with the Lawdit team today.