The rapid innovation response to COVID-19 and the role of IP

The pandemic response required collaboration and knowledge-sharing for urgent and rapid progress. IP protection made this possible. 

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Innovation during the COVID-19 pandemic was accelerated by certain enabling policies and actions.  By applying lessons learned, policymakers can support the ongoing COVID-19 response and enhance future pandemic preparedness. 

IP was an important enabler of the pandemic response. Alongside patent protection, trade secrets protection has been crucial.  Systems for IP protection support the development and commercialization of new health technologies – especially during a crisis.

  • Innovators had a range of innovative tools and technologies to apply to the COVID-19 response when the pandemic hit. IP had supported their development. 
     

  • Collaboration and knowledge-sharing provided a foundation for rapid innovation in response to the crisis. IP enabled sharing. 
     

  • At every stage of development of COVID-19 vaccines and other solutions, significant investments were required. IP protection helped to enable such investments, whether in relation to product innovation, regulatory approval, scaling production, or distribution.
     

  • Some IP assets relevant to the COVID-19 response were licensed by the public sector research institutes to the private sector. One example is the mRNA platform. This underlines the need for policy frameworks for public-private collaboration.
     

  • Some have called for removing IP for COVID-19 solutions. This would have made it very difficult to innovate so quickly, by making knowledge and technology sharing unduly risky. It would also have made it more difficult to establish distributed manufacturing networks, which require tech transfer. A lack of IP protection would have slowed the COVID-19 innovation response. 

Other types of policies also affected the COVID-19 response. Government support, whether financial support or cooperation with innovators to expedite regulatory approval without compromising safety and quality, accelerated the response. In contrast, some policies, such as export restrictions, interfered with the operation of efficient value chains and should be re-examined.