April 10, 2020
Intel, Mozilla and Creative Commons have joined the Open COVID Pledge, a consortium of organizations, scientists and legal experts vowing to make intellectual property available to fight the coronavirus. They have agreed to provide free licenses to patents, copyrights and other IP to anyone working on technologies to diagnose, prevent or treat COVID-19. “IP … is the engine to help the globe out of the coronavirus pandemic,” states the Pledge. The end date is a year after the World Health Organization declares the pandemic over.
VentureBeat reports that Mark Lemley, director of Stanford University program in law, science and technology, said the Open COVID Pledge “is intended to prevent researchers and entrepreneurs from being sued for tools they create during the pandemic” and that, “once things return to normal, the hope is that companies will work together to come up with commercially reasonable license terms.”
They will also be able to reclaim ownership of their IP “if they choose.” He added that, although the group has written a model license, participating organizations are free to use their own “license terms.”
Among those expressing support for the Pledge are “DLA Piper, Unified Patents, the Idea Laboratory for Intellectual Property, Fabricatorz Foundation, Universities Allied for Essential Medicines, the University of Utah S. J. Quinney College of Law, and the Program on Information Justice and Intellectual Property at American University Washington College of Law.”
Creative Commons said it would work with the participants “to create a framework that allows the development of diagnostic tools, treatment, and preventative solutions — and possibly even a cure or vaccine — to halt the spread of COVID-19.”
At Intel, which donated $50 million in cash and resources to fight the coronavirus, executive vice president/general counsel Steven Rodgers stated that “we will continue to invent — and protect — our intellectual property, but we offer it freely to those working to protect people from this pandemic.”
An op-ed in The Hill stresses that, “governments around the world need to intervene to lessen IP restrictions in the short term and control spiraling prices,” especially with regards to personal protection equipment for doctors and other healthcare workers. “We need to relax IP rules to allow companies — small, medium and large, domestic and foreign — to contribute to these efforts,” it says, also stressing the need for price controls.
It adds that, “now is not the time to prosecute these patent infringement claims,” for such critical items as ventilators, and suggests that, “the use of the Defense Production Act in the United States and legislative solutions in other countries is one step.” Second, regarding “much-needed medicine” as well as other medical supplies, “we should consider [non-exclusive] compulsory licensing,” which is often used for “national defense, emergency, or public non-commercial use.”
“Extreme health issues can and should justify such extreme measures that violate IP rights,” it concludes. “The niceties of IP law should not get in the way of our countries fighting it.”