NYTimes has published a new opinion piece titled “Want Vaccines Fast? Suspend Intellectual Property Rights.”
A few years ago I wrote an essay entitled Nil: The Value of Patents in a Major Crisis Such as an Influenza Pandemic (2009). My basic argument was that the timeline for patenting is quite different than the timeline for a pandemic. Patents typically take years to obtain (especially on an international level) and pandemics typically have a shorter timeline. By the time the patents issue, the crisis will likely be averted. And, if the crisis is still ongoing governments will simply bend/break the patents if their owners refuse to comply.
My understanding is that – so far – none of the COVID-19 vaccines have been patented, but that process is certainly in the works. The NYTimes article also implicitly recognizes that patents are not the key to COVID distribution, rather, the focus here is really to force the technology developers to also turn-over their undisclosed know-how and trade secrets. This is something obviously more invasive than refusing to enforce patent rights and would shift the balance of power out of the hands of the innovator companies.