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Protecting Intellectual Property for Covid-19 Innovations

Introduction and inter-relation of Covid-19 and IP
The Covid-19 pandemic is one of the most serious global health crisis that the world is going through currently and for the past one year. It has led to a large number of deaths and serious illnesses among others, worldwide. Not just a health crisis, but, all countries had to face an unprecedented socio-economic crisis due to lack of functional labour, halt in the manufacturing sector, risk to mankind etc. thus, lowering the efficiency among human resources, reducing the pace of development and GDP of the countries across the globe.

This health crisis has had a negative impact across all business sectors and has also left an impact on the protection of existing intellectual property rights as well as the ones which have been developed as Covid 19 innovations. These innovations encompass pharmaceutical products such as medicines, vaccines and diagnostics needed to cope up and fight the pandemic.

The cure to this pandemic situation lies in the pharmaceutical industry and thus the need of the hour is to protect such intellectual properties/ innovations so that once they are tested, approved and granted protection, they can serve as quick and reliable solutions to cure the illness among thousands and lakhs of people suffering globally.

Recent developments and reason for IP protection
The pandemic has led various scientists, virologists and medical experts to indulge into extensive research into finding better ways of detecting infections, how they could prevent them through vaccines and discovering new and effective ways of treatment of this disease.

Among these, the recent developments in India include the 2 vaccines- Covishield and Covaxin, which have been given approval by the CDSCO. Covishield which is developed and manufactured by Serum Institute of India in collaboration with AstraZeneca and Covaxin, an indigenous vaccine developed by Bharat Biotech, Indian Institute of Medical Research and Institute of Virology. These institutes were given restricted emergency use.

Global developments of Covid 19 vaccines include - Moderna, Pfizer, and BioNTech and other treatments include Regeneron.

Other development that is still in process of being approved is – the detection of temperature of a person through thermal imaging, which ensures that there is contactless means of calculating the temperature of a Covid 19 suspect. These innovations have and will bring positive improvements in the healthcare sector and thus require IP protection.

These institutes and inventors are putting their intellect, hard work, time and money into developing cures in the form of vaccines and drugs to tackle this situation as soon as possible and live up-to the saying that “Prevention is always better than cure”. Thus, these innovations need to be protected by granting the inventors patents and so providing them an incentives for their development in the pharmaceutical industry.

The severity of the pandemic has led to a higher and quicker demand of potential drugs and vaccines across the globe. Amongst this severity, there has been a debate about how granting IP protection to such innovations hampers, inhibits and poses an obstacle to the access to such drugs and vaccines for public good. But, the underlying challenge is not access to the vaccines but the lack of approved vaccines, drugs and treatments across the globe.

Thus, this clearly concludes that IP protection does not create a barrier to such access and the governments shall realize that a balance of competing interests needs to be created for protection of IP rights while serving public good.

Need for IP protection of Covid 19 innovations
  1. The high and quick demand of potential drugs can smoothly be satisfied only when the inventors are given IP protection. This is important because due to the high demand there is also a potential risk of the invention been stolen or the composition of the drugs or vaccines being leaked to a local manufacturer. Thus, encroaching the rights of the inventor and also hampering the quality factor of the drug/vaccine developed.
  2. If IP protection is granted, this designates the innovation with a reliability tag. This means that if IP protection is granted to a certain innovation, it has gone through a legal process, complying with all the trials and tests and so, people who are affected can, without a second thought trust and rely on the invention developed.
  3. IP protection shall prevent stockpiling medicines, drugs and vaccines as the inventor shall receive incentives for his innovation and can safely put out the patent for use at least for 20 years without the risk of being stolen or infringed, till the time it comes into public domain.
  4. It will protect public from receiving and consuming local, counterfeited and adulterated drugs. Thus, patent ownership shall drastically influence global access to healthcare and reliable cures to combat the global pandemic.

Repercussions
If we do not grant IP protection and completely strip away IPR in wake of public good, the system will break out. There will be more related concerns of infringement that shall delay approvals of the Covid innovations. Moreover, there is no such guarantee whether without granting protection and taking up the ‘Open-Covid Pledge’ (adopted by many) which gives access to the use of IP innovations free of charge, shall work to cure public health. Thus, taking the situation farther from ending the global health crisis.

Potential Solution proposed to be adopted
The way we can potentially achieve a balance between protecting/ granting IP rights to Covid innovations and at the same time serve public good is by approaching the inventors to allow voluntary licensing and if the situation gets severe the government shall resolve to compulsory licensing. Compulsory licensing of patents for vaccines and other Covid innovations includes the government allowing a third-party to produce a patented product or process without the consent of the patent owner. But, this method can be resolved to, as the owner shall still have ownership rights over the patent and shall be paid compensation for copies made under compulsory licensing. Thus, balancing the war between protection of rights and public health.

Conclusion
Covid-19 pandemic has lasted for quite some time now and researchers say that it is still to have long lasting repercussions for the coming decade. So, while living with the pandemic one has to think from a farther perspective. The race to develop a vaccine or a cure for Covid- 19 is not just about saving lives of the people but also owning patent rights for what can be potential cures to fight the battle in the long run. This shall give the patent owner an edge to control the manufacture and distribution of innovations in countries where he has been granted patent rights and so shall help combat the Covid-19 pandemic.

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