The outbreak of COVID-19 has resulted in several innovations in various technologies. It is a known fact that these innovations may be the subject matter of patent applications around the globe. Further, the COVID-19 situation across the globe has encouraged several pharmaceutical companies and researchers to speed up the process for both, the treatment, and vaccines. Due to several participants playing in the field of treatment and vaccines, it is expected that in near future there will be a serious dialogue between the companies, government, and all stakeholders on the matter in which all the poor and needy around the globe can afford the drugs which are protected by product patents. In such situations, patent pooling has always been suggested as an effective tool to address acute public health crises such as disease outbreaks.
What is Patent Pool?
Patent pool is a consortium of two or more companies agreeing to license their patents to one another or any third party. Historically, the need for patent pooling arose when an inventor of an invention got stuck in technologies involving complex nature and the invention further needed a complementary patent for achieving productive technical solutions or completeness, and however such complementary patent belonged to another patent holder.
Considering the scenario today and to have a balanced approach towards handling of COVID-19 situation, related patents, and licensing models associated with such patents patent, patent pool can act as an effective remedy to handle acute health crises.
Medicine Patent Pool (MPP)
MPP is a United Nations-backed international organization which was founded in July 2010, based in Geneva, Switzerland and is based on the model that patents are intended to reward innovations, and a patent, if not licensed, can prevent the production or sale of affordable generic medicines and the development of novel innovations. The MPP negotiates with patent holders for licenses on life saving medicines. Such licenses further allow generic drug manufacturers to distribute patented medicines in low- and middle-income countries and also, provide the freedom to develop new treatments.
Medicine Patent Pool (MPP) and its role in battling COVID 19
The MPP is assisting, by gathering patent information for products already being tested in clinical trials, such as antiviral remdesivir and the biologic tocilizumab, in few countries. MPP has stated that they have made available the mentioned drugs via their online database, MedsPaL. The database acts as a repository of patent intelligence which enables experts of the countries and pharmaceutical companies to identify patents that could impede access to innovations, if unlicensed.
MPP, on April 3rd 2020 stated: "The Board of the Medicines Patent Pool (MPP) has decided to temporarily expand its mandate to include any health technology that could contribute to the global response to COVID-19 and where licensing could facilitate innovation and access. With the support of Unitaid, this will allow MPP to offer its IP and licensing expertise to the World Health Organization (WHO) to assist the global effort in any way it can".
MPP on 29th May 2020 launched COVID-19 Technology Access Pool (C-TAP), where one of the key elements of C-TAP is licensing any potential treatment, diagnostic, vaccine, or other health technology to the UN-backed Medicines Patent Pool. MPP's Board already temporarily expanded its mandate to COVID-19 treatments & technologies on 31st March 2020. Through C-TAP, WHO is now asking public and private funders of R&D to commit to IP knowledge-sharing, in particular through open licensing.
How Patent pool can benefit in the battle against COVID 19?
The aggregation and dissemination of innovative products and solutions in the form of Patent Pool could encourage innovation and improve access to life-saving medications. The following are few benefits of patent pooling during a pandemic.
- Patent pooling can ensure fast (R&D) Research and development of a medicinal drug which may play a role during a pandemic like COVID-19 while being transparent about patent rights and legal issues
- Patent pooling may enable and allow the drug manufacturing companies to combine distinct medications into single/fixed doses to create better medicines
- Patent pooling also can aid in teaming of big pharma companies with generics companies globally for coming up with the required medicine(s)
- Patent pooling may enable immediate licensing across several manufacturers globally leading to the quick availability of medicines.
MPP can help to deal with the pandemic situation by offering a platform for expertise in licensing and patent pooling to address the current COVID-19 crisis. In other words, MPP can assist companies that own product patents to work with generic companies to reach a viable licensing mechanism that satisfies both sides.
On 31st March 2020, the Medicines Patent Pool has stated to commit an investment for innovative treatment, diagnostics, and respiratory triage tools as part of the global response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Medicines Patent Pool has welcomed to work collaboratively through "existing mechanisms for voluntary pooling and licensing of patents" and is looking forward to working with the World Health Organization (WHO), the Member States and other key stakeholders to make that possible.
The MPP has earlier proved in providing the best drugs available in generic versions for HIV like diseases. In a similar way, if implemented effectively, the initiatives set forth by the MPP for gathering patent knowledge for products being used in clinical trials and making it available on its patents and licences database, can be beneficial in the battle against COVID-19.
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