The Covid-19 pandemic will bring a new world order. There is no doubt about the profound social impact it is having and its economic consequences. These are times to cooperate to recover precrisis levels of well-being, or even to come out stronger. These are also times to promote innovation. For many years, we have been reducing the effort in R&D and missing a proper culture for managing science and technology performance. Now we are asking the “lab heroes” to develop in weeks a vaccine, or disinfection technologies.
It is comforting to see how, in this context as frightening as it is challenging, a multitude of entrepreneurial projects have emerged which, with more encouragement than means, are managing to develop solutions that are already a reality in hospitals. I have had the opportunity to be close to several of these initiatives: Aenium is a start-up in Valladolid that has developed a methodology called “multi-volume variable energy density” that enables for the manufacture of mask filters that comply with the most demanding regulations. In this case the challenge was to patent and license it for free without jeopardizing the company’s business model by disseminating some of its fundamental knowledge. I have also seen up-close how the OxyGen project has created ventilators that are already in Catalan hospitals.
There are many more examples where we will see that Intellectual Property is already helping to develop solutions that contribute to overcome the health emergency; but the ultimate goal must be to define the role of Intellectual Property in the new world order. In order to do so, we must address, among other things, these aspects:
Globalization vs. national interest. Although logic tells us that solutions have to be global, we are facing the closure of borders. Of course, Intellectual Property rights have a national character, but a global legal framework has been built to facilitate the international transfer of science and technology. Before Covid-19, we already suffered tense situations that tested this framework in areas such as 5G technology. Now we have to facilitate cooperation and dissemination of effective results against coronavirus and the future challenges our society faces.
Public vs. private interest. The possibility of “expropriating” the potential Covid-19 vaccine, which we hope will arrive soon, is already being considered in some countries on the grounds of general interest. Article 95 of the Spanish Patent Law provides for the possibility of granting compulsory licenses on the grounds of public interest. Another alternative would be to take advantage of technology transfer model under “fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory” conditions that is already used to license patents associated with telecommunication standards. This would ensure, on the one hand, that everyone can have access under appropriate conditions and, on the other hand, that the companies developing the vaccine are adequately compensated.
Data privacy vs disclosure of data with a national interest. Countries that have already successfully dealt with the pandemic have relied on the use of applications for locating and identifying the movements of individuals via mobile phones. Assuming the convenience of monitoring part of the population in such extreme situations, we must always keep in mind the limits of personal data privacy. Likewise, these circumstances can be a good scenario to promote a model of sharing and valuing non-personal data.
Promoting new productive paradigms. This new context, in which many of us have learned to telework and “tele-learn”, must serve to promote the digital transformation of the productive network. To do this, we need to clearly define the scope of protection and transfer of technologies such as Artificial Intelligence.
The purpose is to find a balance between defending the fundamental rights of natural and legal persons and that general interest supported by scientific and technological development. To this end, Intellectual Property has a relevant role to play. I urge us to have that broad vision, which is called strategic in companies, and which we need in order to have the scientific and technological resources to help us face the future. To do this, we also need to define Intellectual Property management models that encourage innovation and help us build the new post-Covid 19 world order.
Luis Ignacio Vicente, PONS IP Strategic Consultant