26 August 2020Muireann Bolger

IP Week: Accelerating innovation, recovery and growth in the COVID-19 era

The effect of COVID-19 on global health systems and business markets has been profound in scale and impact. According to the  United Nations, the pandemic will result in a $1 trillion hit to the world economy this year alone.

Andrei Iancu, director of the US Patent and Trademark Office, Tim Moss, chief executive officer of the UK Intellectual Property Office, and Etienne Sanz de Acedo, chief executive officer at the International Trademark Association participated in a webinar hosted by the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore (IPOS).

They were joined by Rena Lee, chief executive of IPOS, Shen Changyu, commissioner at the  China National Intellectual Property Adminstration and Toshihide Kasutani, commissioner at the  Japan Patent Office.

Iancu spoke about the crucial role of IP in fighting the effects of the pandemic. He said: “There has never been a greater need for innovation and awareness of the IP system than today. In early August, around the world, there were at least 28 potential Covid-19 vaccines being evaluated for safety and efficacy, with about 139 in pre-clinical valuation. Having this many different vaccines being developed is incredible, especially considering just a few months ago, we were just learning about the novel coronavirus.”

He added that this rapid response was only possible due to innovation before the pandemic, and that IP was a catalyst for innovation. “The decisions we make today will impact the inventions that will be necessary to help combat the next pandemic or humanitarian crisis. If we don't respect IP, inventors will not put in the time for the technologies that will be needed in the next crisis,” he said, adding that: “We must always have the future in mind”.

He also warned against any suggestions that IP was a barrier to innovation or that drastic measures such as compulsory licenses should be considered. “Evidence of need must be shown and IP experts must be consulted,” he said. He added that countries should apply flexibility to their IP systems only if voluntary options had been exhausted.

Moss also suggested the notion that IP prevented collaboration and innovation had not been borne out during the pandemic. He said: “In practice, we have seen business sharing and collaborating at unparalleled levels and arch competitors coming together with common goals to find cures, build medical equipment and create vaccines,” he said.

He added the impact of the pandemic had been polarising, with some business in the travel and tourism sector collapsing while many online businesses have thrived.

The panel explored the grave problems posed by counterfeiters, and all agreed that international collaboration was vital in fighting this prevalent threat. “It didn't take long for  criminals to try and rip off the public,” said Moss, pointing to the speedy arrest of UK citizen Frank Ludlow, who tried to sell fake coronavirus cure kits to people in France and the US, by the UK police after being alerted by authorities in Los Angeles. “It is an example of multi-agency, international collaboration on IP enforcement,” said Moss.

Sanz de Acedo said the pandemic had led to a huge spike in counterfeits, with more than $14 million counterfeit pharmaceutical products seized worldwide. He added that consumers shopping habits have changed dramatically, with a 160% increase in the “at home economy” as more people increasingly buy groceries and other essential products online.

The entire panel recognised the need for the IP industry to support SMEs, which had been gravely affected by the pandemic. De Acedo explained that 90% of world companies are SMEs, representing 70% of the world's employment and 50% of GDP.

“SMEs are a great source of youth employment, which have been hugely affected by Covid 19,” he said. He added there was an onus on the IP sector to encourage innovation and remove barriers for struggling SMEs.

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