You would easily be forgiven if you had not stopped to think about the impact patents may have on the fight against COVID-19. Fortunately, however, companies are starting to open up their IP portfolios in order to assist in the fight against COVID-19 in unprecedented times.
In the race to find a cure, or effective treatment, for COVID-19 already existing (and future filed) patent rights could inhibit company's abilities and freedom to trial possible vaccines and treatments. It could also inhibit poorer countries from vital access to any such drugs. While the financial rewards for finding and protecting such a vaccine or treatment through a patent would be considerable, fortunately many companies are starting to offer royalty-free licenses and opening their IP portfolios to assist in schemes designed to assist, otherwise competitor, companies in their own attempts to fight the virus.
This is not only essential to enable a cure or treatment to be discovered as soon as possible but also to enable worldwide access to this in the future.
Companies should be cautious, however, since not all companies have yet subscribed to such royalty-free licensing schemes and they should still be aware that simply because a company has declared a commitment to share their IP does not necessarily mean there aren't other potentially problematic patents owned by other companies. Please take time to seek advice if you are in any doubt about freedom to operate.
A number of scientists and IP professionals, including Jennifer Doudna and Professor Mark Lemley, have launched the Open COVID Pledge – a proposed agreement for the cost-free worldwide licensing of relevant IP rights (apart of from trademarks and trade secrets) during the period of the pandemic and twelve months afterwards.