As the COVID-19 pandemic began to change life around the world this spring, College of Law Professor Jorge Contreras stepped into a global debate about how his field of expertise — intellectual property — might support efforts to stop the transmission of the disease.
He joined forces with a group of lawyers and scientists to launch the Open COVID Pledge, a movement designed to encourage companies and universities to make their IP available in the fight against the coronavirus.
Contreras spoke with Res Gestae shortly after launching the pledge in March about the initiative and the momentum it is gaining as the world continues to look for answers on how to best contain the spread of COVID-19.
Q: What is the Open COVID Pledge? Why was this needed? How did you get involved?
A: The Open COVID Pledge is a public commitment by companies, universities and others to make their intellectual property available without charge in the fight against COVID-19.
The Pledge emerged as a response to reports that intellectual property was emerging as a barrier to research and development of vaccines, diagnostics and therapies for COVID-19, as well as the manufacture and deployment of lifesaving equipment and parts needed to respond to the pandemic.
I was asked to join this effort given my long history of work in the area of open science and data sharing policy, as well as a recent book that I co-edited on the topic of patent pledges (http://www.e-elgar. com/shop/patent-pledges).
Q: What kind of response are you seeing so far? Is this fostering collaboration between entities as organizers had hoped?
A: The Pledge is just a few weeks old, but we are already seeing amazing enthusiasm. Global IP leaders like Intel, Microsoft, Face-book, HP, Amazon, IBM and Sandia National Labs have all made
the Pledge, committing hundreds of thousands of patents to the fight against COVID-19. The Pledge has also received public statements of support from leading policy and advocacy groups around the world, including Creative Commons, Mozilla, Unified Patents and the Open Knowledge Foundation.
Right now, it’s too early to know what real world impact this massive outpouring of technology will have, but we are in the process of identifying specific use cases for this IP that we can promote around the world.
Q: How could this project open the door for other similar collaborations down the line that may lead to advancements in health? Is this initiative a game-changer for how business may be done in the future?
A: The Pledge is designed as a temporary, emergency measure to spur the development and deployment of needed medical technologies in this public health emergency. This temporary duration is one of the Pledge’s most important features, as it does not require companies or institutions to give up their IP permanently, or in fields outside of the COVID-19 response. We need to continue to reward innovators with the promise of intellectual property. But it is our strong hope that the cooperation and public spirit engendered by the current emergency will form lasting collaborations and relationships that will help to fuel innovation and discovery long after this pandemic ends.