Patent pools may be described as an agreement between two or more patent holders to license one or several of their patents to one another or to third parties. In order to provide effective technological solutions, patent pools are often associated with complicated inventions that require complementary patents. Patent pooling is a mechanism by which two or more patent owners agree to grant licenses to each other or to third parties for their patents. When an inventor is working on complex technology and he requires another patent for the effective completion of his invention, but that part belongs to another patent holder, it is then that patent pooling comes into the picture.

Patent pools impart vital technology to different businesses or firms for the development of competent products by means of patents. They often cover certain innovations that are not yet completely developed. In several areas, especially high-tech industries such as cellular networks, video transmission (or streaming), and other software and hardware-based systems, structured formal standards have been developed to enhance market growth and ensure the interoperability of related services.

MPP (Medicine Patent Pooling)

Established in July 2010, and headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland, MPP is a United Nations-backed international organization. It is based on the model that patents are intended to reward innovation and that patents, if not approved, will prevent the creation or selling of affordable generic medicines and the development of novel innovations.MPP discusses and negotiates with the patent holders for licenses, and these licenses further help the manufacturers in distributing generic drugs at affordable prices. MPP, over the past few years, has negotiated voluntary licensing agreements that have made it available to low-income countries to buy affordable HIV, TB, and Hepatitis C drugs.

MPP and Covid-19

Entities may opt for a “medicine patent pool” and negotiate licenses for the production and sale of drugs, sanitizing products & medical equipment such as ventilators, HazMat suits, etc. with patent holders. MedsPal is an online database which is operated by MPP, on which they provide information regarding patented products that are already tested or are going through a clinical trial. The database serves as a patent intelligence repository that helps nation's and pharmaceutical industry experts to recognize patents that, if unlicensed, could hinder access to inventions.

In the month of November 2020, a pledge was taken by a united group of 18 companies representing a significant proportion of generic pharmaceutical producers worldwide, to Collaborate and work together through the Medicines Patent Pool (MPP) to facilitate access for low- and middle-income countries ( LMICs) to hundreds of million doses of new interventions.

MPP will be more effective if it is not merely a voluntary pool. Only developed and developing countries can compel the MNCs to join the pool, either via compulsory licensing or through other mechanisms. However, in India, the generic companies are more involved in voluntary licensing than in compulsory licensing. The only reason is that the compulsory licensing process, in India, is full of legalities and is also quite expensive.

How will the countries benefit from patent pooling?

Patent pools make sure that the sub-licensees of patented medicines not only have access to these drugs but they also allow them to develop, manufacture and sell the generic versions of these drugs. It's an efficient tool to bring together new technologies, to be used at a fair price, and be subject to payment to the developers. They are usually managed by a central agency, and the patents, know-hows, etc. of the drug are shared and made available for licensing by the central agency. The central agency specifies the rate which is payable for such licenses and the interested entities may approach the pool and make a contract. In the case of a vaccine, unlike a common pharmaceutical product, there are several components involved that are developed by various companies, and therefore Patent pooling allows these drug manufacturing companies to combine separate drugs into single/fixed doses in order to produce better drugs.

Covid-19 Technology Access Pool or C-TAP launched with the support of MPP is an initiative to make medications, vaccines, testing, and other health-related technologies available to everyone to tackle the present COVID-19 situation. Licensing is one of the main aspects of C-TAP. Licensing of any future treatment, diagnostic, vaccine, or other health technology to the Medicines Patent Pool. It will be an advantage to have companies contribute under a template arrangement for a fixed period of time that offers some potential to monetize innovations as things change.

Another benefit of a patent pool is that it allows for immediate licensing across multiple producers worldwide, leading to the rapid availability of Covid-19 medicines, along with ensuring Research and Development while being transparent about the legal issues. A global pool in the case of the Covid-19 vaccine will fastrack the manufacturing process worldwide because no producer will have to take the permission of the patent holder for manufacturing the drug. Provisions like compulsory licensing or state acquisitions can also be skipped by them.   

To conclude it can be said that in the present situation, everybody is eagerly awaiting the Covid-19 vaccine and patent pooling can help to make the process of production a little faster. If a global pool of innovations in covid-19 is developed with regard to medicines and vaccines, then the method of manufacturing and distribution of vaccines can be Fastracked. However, a patent pool will only be effective if it is not merely ‘voluntary' one. MPP can't do much if the MNC's are not willing to contribute or join the pool. If MNCs do not join the voluntary pool for COVID-19 medical products but if procedures are standardized and are supportive of generic firms, then it is unlikely that the latter would not be involved in compulsory licencing. In a product patent regime, if they do not get a voluntary licence, then a compulsory licence is the alternative for generic companies to expand their sphere of operations.

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