Tech Titans Commit To Freeing IP To Aid Pandemic Response

By Mike LaSusa
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Law360 (April 21, 2020, 9:41 PM EDT) -- Technology giants Amazon, Facebook, Hewlett Packard Enterprise Co., IBM, Microsoft and Sandia National Laboratories have joined other prominent institutions in pledging to refrain from enforcing patent protections for uses of their intellectual property aimed at combating the COVID-19 pandemic.

The tech titans announced on Monday that they have joined the Open COVID Pledge, which invites universities, companies and other owners of IP to grant free and temporary licenses to use their patented and copyrighted technologies in the fight against the novel coronavirus without fear of legal ramifications.

Diane Peters, the general counsel of Creative Commons who helped author the Open COVID Pledge, told Law360 on Tuesday that more attorneys should educate themselves about open patent licensing.

"The legal profession needs to embrace innovation, not outdated models of sharing, in service of their clients needs and goals," Peters said. "This includes welcoming fresh, socially relevant and robust ways of sharing that may not fit within traditional sharing models but are imperative to solving current problems."

Mark Ringes, the top intellectual property lawyer for IBM Corp., told Law360 on Tuesday that the patent licensing pledge is just one of a number of initiatives the company has taken amid the outbreak.

"We're trying to find a way to fight this pandemic and get it behind us," Ringes said.

IBM said in a news release on Monday that its commitment applies to the company's more than 80,000 outstanding patents and patent applications, as well as new patent applications filed through the end of 2023.

Monday's announcement from the tech behemoths follows similar actions earlier this month from Intel, which joined the Open COVID Pledge, as well as Medtronic PLC and Smiths Group PLC, which released ventilator design files and manufacturing guidance using a permissive license.

Additionally, Stanford University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University have agreed to let their IP be used, albeit not as part of Open COVID Pledge. Their joint COVID-19 Technology Access Framework "sets a model by which critically important technologies that may help prevent, diagnose, or treat COVID-19 infections may be deployed for the greatest public benefit without delay," according to a statement.

The University of California's Innovative Genomics Institute has also offered up its IP.

--Additional reporting by Dani Kass. Editing by Alanna Weissman.

Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated the name of Hewlett Packard Enterprise Co. The error has been corrected. 

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