The Open COVID Pledge calls on organizations around the world to make their patents and copyrights freely available to combat the coronavirus. The Pledge was developed by the Open COVID Coalition (“Coalition”), an international group of scientists and lawyers, seeking to accelerate the rapid development and deployment of diagnostics, therapeutics, medical equipment, and software solutions to this urgent public health crisis. Many major technology companies and academic organizations have “signed onto” the Pledge. The Pledge, however, does not appear to be as popular with biopharmaceutical companies.
Am I eligible? How do I make the Pledge? Anyone who holds intellectual property rights is eligible by either issuing a public statement making the Pledge or issuing a press release and notifying the Coalition.
What IP is covered? Pledging parties may share any of their intellectual property rights, including patents and copyrights relating to the coronavirus pandemic. The Pledge does not cover trademarks or trade secrets.
How do I implement the Pledge? The Coalition has published three standard licenses. A pledging party may adopt one of these standard licenses, adopt its own compatible license, or adopt an alternative license.
What are some of the key terms of the standard licenses?
- Grant: Simply stated, the standard licenses grant a non-exclusive, royalty-free, worldwide license to use and commercialize the intellectual property in products and services. The grant is limited to the sole purpose of ending the COVID-19 pandemic and minimizing the impact of the disease. This covers diagnosis, prevention, containment, and treatment.
- Limited time period: The are two possible durations. One standard license runs from December 31, 2019 until one year after the World Health Organization declares the COVID-19 pandemic to have ended. The term of another standard license fixes termination of the license as not beyond January 1, 2023.
Can I customize the standard license? Yes, a pledging party may customize the Coalition’s standard licenses as long as the terms remain compatible with the standard licenses’ terms. For example, to be considered compatible, the rights granted cannot be more restrictive than those of the standard licenses.
Can I still use a more restrictive license? Should the Coalition consider a license not to be compatible with an Open COVID standard license, the license still may be used by a pledging party as an “alternative license,” if the Coalition deems the license consistent with the Open COVID Pledge. How the Coalition will make this determination remains uncertain.
Does the Pledge make sense for your organization? A party considering making the Open COVID Pledge should evaluate its IP and determine if a license would best support the fight against the coronavirus, without harming the party’s business or research objectives. Perhaps your healthcare start-up or small business may benefit by sharing its technology for a limited time with more established academic or commercial organizations having enhanced capabilities for accelerating research or development in the fight against COVID-19.
These are unprecedented times. It is encouraging to see many companies and universities come together towards a common critically important purpose. The Open COVID Pledge can be a step in the right direction.