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Utah Law Professor Contreras discusses impact of COVID-19 on intellectual property rights during 27th Annual IPIL Lecture


Jorge L. Contreras, a professor at the University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law, discussed how intellectual property practitioners can make a positive impact on the COVID-19 pandemic.

Jan. 29, 2021 - University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law Professor Jorge L. Contreras provided his perspective on COVID-19’s effect on intellectual property rights sharing movements during a recent University of Houston Law Center lecture entitled, "Anatomy of an Intellectual Property Movement: The Open COVID Pledge."

Contreras served as the keynote speaker at the 27th Annual Fall Lecture held by the Institute of Intellectual Property & Information Law (IPIL) held via Zoom, and sponsored by the Houston Intellectual Property Law Association (HIPLA). Photos of the event are here, and a history of the Fall lecture is here.

“There are three primary ways in which access to IP can be increased in a time of crisis: compulsory licensing, patent pools and clearinghouses, and patent pledges,” Contreras said. "In response to COVID19, countries such as Germany, Canada, and Israel have enacted legislative and administrative proceedings to increase access to patented medicines or technologies that could be useful in developing vaccines or drugs.”

Contreras worked with an international group of researchers, scientists, and lawyers to create a pledge framework that could be used for entities that held IP pledges that they wanted to be used to accelerate the development and deployment of diagnostics, vaccines, medical equipment, and software solutions for COVID-19.

"The pledge had to be legally enforceable, attractive to pledge owners, and appealing to users,” Contreras said. “In such, it needed to be simple, uniform, and engender trust within the community. And, of course, it had to enable free use for at least the duration of the pandemic declared by the World Health Organization.”

“We therefore pledge to make our intellectual property free of charge for use in ending the COVID-19 pandemic and minimizing the impact of the disease,” was the common pledge chosen by the Open COVID Coalition, and it has since been translated into six languages.

Contreras said that there are advantages to retaining ownership of IP rights as opposed to contributing them to the public domain. Owning a portfolio can help prevent attacks, and retaining IP rights allows preferential enforcement of conditions associated with the license, whereas giving the public access to IP rights eliminates the ability to control or moderate downstream use.

"We are working on building up a community around this type of thing, and the ultimate goal for projects like this are to meaningfully contribute to solving technology bottlenecks, if they exist, with respect to the response to COVID-19,” Contreras said.

A University of Utah Presidential Scholar, Contreras has published more than 100 articles in scientific, legal, and policy journals. Featured on a vast array of podcasts and online news programs as well as NPR, PRI, and BBC radio shows, he teaches in the areas of intellectual property law, property law, and genetics and the law.

"The topic Professor Contreras discussed is as important as any topic we could talk about, because it involves humanity’s technological response and fight against the virus and how we coordinate that technological response,” said Associate Dean Greg Vetter, the HIPLA Professor of Law and moderator for the Fall Lecture sponsored by HIPLA.

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