WASHINGTON—Intellectual property rights and protections have allowed corporations and start-ups in a wide range of industries to develop and commercialize thousands of innovations in the past year to meet critical societal challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic—from new vaccines and therapeutics to video conferencing technologies and delivery robots. This underscores why policymakers around the world should ensure robust IP protections remain in place, according to a new report in which the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF), the leading think tank for science and technology policy, highlights 10 illustrative case studies.
“Intellectual property provides the incentives that are necessary for innovators to undertake the often risky, difficult, expensive, and time-consuming process of creating new-to-the-world innovations,” said Jaci McDole, senior policy analyst at ITIF and co-author of the report. “IP rights and protections are just as important for new start-up firms as they are for established leaders in R&D-intensive industries. Without IP, they wouldn’t be able to generate capital to invest in R&D, manufacturing, and marketing so that one generation of innovative products can finance the next.”
Critics have blamed IP rights for a host of problems—including limited access to therapeutics, vaccines, and biotechnology—so they propose to weaken or eliminate IP rights altogether. But while doing so might accelerate the diffusion of some existing innovations, it would be a short-lived benefit that comes at the expense of future innovations, according to ITIF. Nations around the world cannot afford to take such a risk, the report argues—particularly during the pandemic. They should instead encourage more IP-protected innovations to help tackle future challenges.
To highlight the role IP has played in enabling solutions to societal challenges in the COVID-19 pandemic, ITIF’s report provides 10 illustrative case studies:
- Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin, India’s only fully indigenous COVID-19 vaccine in use since March of 2021.
- Gilead’s Remdesivir, the first therapeutic created to help people recover from COVID-19.
- LumiraDX’ SARS-COV-2 Antigen POC Test, created to offer faster results in the fight against COVID-19.
- Teal Bio’s Teal Bio Respirator, a reusable silicone mask for healthcare workers.
- XE Ingeniería Médica’s CápsulaXE, an hermetically sealed isolation chamber with an inflated, flexible, lightweight, and transparent dome offering three access ports for care providers.
- Surgical Theater’s Precision VR, an advanced medical visualization platform.
- Tombot’s Jennie, a robotic Labrador puppy for companionship.
- Starship Technologies’ autonomous delivery robots that can deliver orders within 15-30 minutes.
- Triax Technologies’ Proximity Trace, an Internet of Things (IoT) system tackling the spread of COVID-19 through contact tracing and social distancing alerts.
- Zoom, the global online meeting place for work and leisure during the pandemic.
“IP was a critical enabler of all the innovations in the study, and while some assert that IP can be a barrier to accessing innovations, in almost all cases IP is the very reason for their existence,” added Stephen Ezell, ITIF’s vice president of global innovation policy and co-author of the report. “Accordingly, whatever so-called benefits we’d get from waiving IP, they would be very short lived: in the years ahead, consumers would miss out on new innovations because entrepreneurs and companies would lack the incentives they need to invest in creating them. Policymakers around the world should ensure robust IP protections remain in place if they want their citizens to have safe and innovative solutions to challenges in health care, work, and society in the future.”