Intellectual Property, Open Source, and Coronavirus

There is controversy about how the generation of intellectual property should be handled in the case of a national pandemic. Some are trying to assert and defend the role of private businesses to protect their discoveries and developments of test kits, vaccines, masks, ventilators or other products. In his address from the Rose Garden on March 13th, Trump’s team emphasized the role of private companies to develop solutions for the pandemic.

Others are taking an open-source approach.

Here is a picture of an open-source respirator.

Photo: Patrick Gillooly MIT News

Patents, trade secrets and other intellectual property law considerations by private companies may be delaying solutions to the global crisis.

Patents protect processes, formulas and prohibit the use by others without paying royalties. Trade secrets are also widely used by private companies to prevent others from profiting from their work.

This is important to motivate innovation.

But we question the enforcement of certain patents in the time of COVID-19. Some talented young people are hacking medical equipment designs and developing 3D printing respirator parts or putting together home-made respirators under $100, in their bedrooms. 

Here is another article about 3D printing and medical equipment.

We believe the government should step up and designate some IP related to medical equipment, to combat the pandemic, free domain. This consideration should apply to other products or processes on an expert-analysis basis.

Many countries have taken this approach in other crises like AIDS in South Africa and Brazil. Moreover, international treaties contemplate this approach.


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