Intellectual property, innovation, access and COVID-19

Author:Francis Gurry
Position:Director General, WIPO
SUMMARY

WIPO Director General Francis Gurry reflects on measures that can be undertaken by governments and market actors to enhance innovation performance and, specifically, innovation outcomes that will contribute to the mitigation and, ultimately, the resolution of the COVID-19 crisis.

 
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The main challenge at the present time is not access to vaccines, treatments or cures for COVID-19, but the absence of any approved vaccines, treatments or cures to have access to. The policy focus of governments at this stage should therefore be on supporting science and innovation that will produce a vaccine, treatments or cures.

In respect of access, the first task is to identify the barriers to access. Many barriers to access exist, such as the lack of manufacturing capacity for vital medical supplies or equipment, impediments to the movement of such supplies and equipment across borders, import duties, lack of internal transportation and delivery mechanisms and lack of adequate health systems and infrastructure. These obstacles need to be addressed by governments.

If innovation produces effective results and if countries are not able to obtain the innovation on appropriate and affordable terms, provisions exist to facilitate access where IP is a barrier. However, the application of these provisions should be targeted and time-bound, because without innovation there will be nothing to have access to, explains Mr. Gurry. (Photo: goplxa / iStock / Getty Images Plus)

Facilitating access to innovation and creative content

Intellectual property (IP) may also constitute a barrier to access if innovation produces effective results and if countries are not able to obtain the innovation on appropriate and affordable terms. In this regard, provisions exist at the national and international levels to facilitate access where IP is a barrier. The application of these provisions should be targeted and time-bound, in other words, related specifically to demonstrated IP barriers to access in the course of the COVID-19 pandemic and bearing in mind that, without innovation, there will be nothing to have access to.

The main challenge at the present time is not access to vaccines, treatments or cures for COVID-19, but the absence of any approved vaccines, treatments or cures to have access to.

In the cultural and creative sector, exceptions and limitations exist in IP systems to facilitate access in certain circumstances and under certain conditions to books, publications and other creative content. Such creative content has a vital role to play in the distribution of data, information and knowledge that may be essential for innovation or for dealing with the adverse conditions of confinement and lock-down necessarily imposed in response to the COVID-19 crisis. The exercise of these flexibilities in relation to the COVID-19 crisis should again be targeted to demonstrated lack of access, and limited to the purpose of remedying any such lack of access for the duration of the crisis. It should be noted that many rights holders across the world have voluntarily taken steps, through innovative licensing arrangements and other measures, to provide free access to vast quantities of relevant content during the crisis.

IP as a driver of innovation

In a global economy that is increasingly driven by technological advances, intellectual property (IP) plays an increasingly central role.

One of the main roles of IP is to provide an incentive framework in which innovation can be encouraged and provided with a safe passage through the many, often perilous, stages from invention to commercial product or service. Likewise, in the creative industries, IP is central to the business model that rewards and facilitates relationships and transactions between authors and composers, performers, publishers, music and audiovisual producers, broadcasters and distributors such as libraries or the various electronic distribution platforms.

(PHOTO: COPRID / ISTOCK / GETTY IMAGES PLUS)

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