As we approach the one-year mark of the coronavirus outbreak being declared a global pandemic, we must acknowledge the unprecedented innovation that has taken place over the past twelve months.
The fact that less than a year after the pandemic reached virtually every corner of the globe we have three approved, effective COVID-19 vaccines is undoubtedly one of the greatest feats of medical innovation the world has ever witnessed. These accomplishments would not have been possible without robust intellectual property (IP) rights in place, according to a report recently released by the Geneva Network.
The report examines the trajectory of COVID-19 vaccines and treatments over the past year, and demonstrates the ways in which strong IP systems have supported and enabled the remarkable innovation that has occurred at unprecedented speeds. Notably, the report found that as scientists and researchers have raced to find solutions to stop the spread of COVID-19, IP rights have:
- Served as the bedrock upon which novel COVID-19 vaccines have been built, giving innovators a foundational understanding of, and access to, technologies and research that have been under development for decades; this was made possible through the incentives and safeguards provided by IP rights.
- Promoted trust and enabled knowledge sharing between individuals and companies, in turn, fostering groundbreaking vaccine development in a very short amount of time and allowing for critical scalability of manufacturing.
- Enabled IP licensing, which allows the vaccine developer to make decisions about which partners manufacture their product, helping ensure quality control and enabling low-cost access for low- and middle-income countries.
“This fundamental misunderstanding miscasts intellectual property rights as a roadblock. In reality, it’s the vehicle that speeds progress, providing the investment and cooperation needed to achieve ambitious goals. This is certainly true in this crisis.”
These findings underscore just how vital IP rights are to our carefully balanced innovation ecosystem—an ecosystem that is all the more important within the context of a global crisis. Yet, despite the fact that IP systems have clearly been critically important to the research, development, manufacturing and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, critics have called for the suspension of IP rights at every stage of the vaccine development process.
At the beginning of the pandemic, opponents claimed IP rights would thwart research and development. Now that vaccines have been developed, IP rights have been mischaracterized as monopolies and falsely accused of making medicines unaffordable. The Geneva Network’s work shows that critics’ claims aren’t based in reality. In fact, the opposite is true—as the report’s authors state: “Far from being a barrier, IP is part of the solution…the IP system has put us in a position to end the pandemic. We should allow it to continue doing its job.” And as IP continues to enable collaboration and innovation, we can overcome the current pandemic and be better prepared for what comes next.