The pandemic resulted in a huge number the inventions and innovation around COVID-19 therapeutics and vaccines with a certain marketplace. Funding from Government and philanthropic organizations gave impetus to the research and development and regulatory authorities paved the way for marketing through emergency use authorization with commendable momentum. Regardless of the funding and support, the bio-pharmaceutical industry has continued with the conventional IP practices delaying the recovery from the crises at desired speed.
Multiple COVID-19 candidate vaccines are undergoing research, development and clinical trial stages. These vaccines fall under various common technology platforms wherein overlapping patents and applications are inevitable. Existing provisions and initiatives around IPRs in response to the COVID-19 are inadequate. Compulsory license provisions do not enable an interested party to manufacture the vaccines, in absence of technology transfer and data exclusivity waiver. The World Health Organization’s initiative to voluntarily pool knowledge and IPRs through the 'COVID-19 Technology Access Pool’ is handicapped in absence of endorsement by bio-pharmaceutical firms and the member states which are home to the trailblazers of COVID-19 therapeutics and vaccine; and the silence of COVAX (COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access) on IPRs has enfeeble its mission to close vaccine gap globally.
Against this backdrop, it is proposed to create innovative approaches for pooling knowledge and IPRs around COVID-19 drugs and vaccines for licensing and cross-licensing encouraging further upstream and downstream research along with global access. Governments should implement systems to award prizes for participating in the pool wherein prizes can be designed linking to relevant parameters like safety and efficacy of the products, stability and storage conditions, simplicity for scale-up manufacturing etc.. There are existing practices regarding innovation inducement prize, a similar pooling inducement prize should be designed. The concepts to design prizes can be taken from the Medical Innovation Prize Act and Medical Innovation Prize Fund. Similarly, making provisions for financial assistance to the pool members for enforcing patents or in invalidity or opposition proceedings. Alternatively, Governments can invoke statutory powers for pooling.
The operational framework for the pool should be created within realm of exemplary antitrust guidelines. Pooling will open a gate to transparency of the licenses ensuring that the licensors are not exploiting their IPRs in contravention to antitrust laws and making a way for the interested parties and authorities to take necessary actions in timely manner.
Implementing innovative pooling of IPRs around COVID-19 vaccines and drugs will sufficiently attenuate the crises. The model is applicable for other COVID-19 technologies at large and this will set a precedent to deal with upcoming health crisis.