Contreras’ research explores impact of patent sharing in fight against COVID-19

RES GESTAE | Winter 2021

New research published by University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law Professor Jorge Contreras and colleagues in the journal Nature Biotechnology  shows an effort to make intellectual property more accessible to researchers, developers and manufacturers is having positive results in the response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Contreras was among a group of nine lawyers, scientists and engineers from the United States and United Kingdom who came together in March to create a flexible, open platform for sharing intellectual property in the fight against COVID-19.  The article, Pledging intellectual property for COVID-19, outlines results of those efforts.

The goal was to remove IP-based hurdles to the rapid research and deployment of critical equipment, protective gear, systems and biopharma products relevant to the pandemic. The result was the Open COVID Pledge, which launched on April 7.  To date, about 30 companies, institutions and national laboratories have pledged approximately 250,000 patents to this cause, with more joining regularly.  The project is now being stewarded by Creative Commons, the global host of free online content and the creator of a popular suite of online content licenses.

“We feel that the Pledge is an attractive option for IP holders, as it is limited only to pandemic research and response and lasts only during the pandemic plus one year.  Alternatives such as governmental compulsory licensing and formal patent pools, while also valuable tools in the fight against COVID-19, have drawbacks that the Pledge addresses,” said Contreras.

“For example, compulsory licensing is viewed as an undesirable intrusion by government into the private sector, and pools require significant overhead and administration.  While the Pledge cannot achieve everything that these other mechanisms can (e.g., it is voluntary and IP-holders can’t be compelled to join), it fills a gap that we hope advances the fight against this pandemic,” he added.

Contreras teaches in the areas of intellectual property law, property law and genetics and the law.  He has recently been named one of the University of Utah’s Presidential Scholars and won the 2018-19 Faculty Scholarship Award from the S.J. Quinney College of Law.

Contreras is blogging about legal issues related to intellectual property and the coronavirus here.