It's become so easy to expect the worst in the current crisis that it can be surprising when you see positive stories appear in the news, even if they're at the periphery.
Amidst the ongoing search for methods and measures to treat and contain the coronavirus, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has put together a database of patents available to license that could be used by other companies seeking to license technology to aid in the fight against the disease.
Per Ian Lopez at Bloomberg Law, the Patents 4 Partnerships program will create a searchable list that identifies patents by inventor, date and keyword to enable other companies on the frontline of the fight against the coronavirus to seek out licenses for the products they need, ideally streamlining the process of seeking out licenses at a time when urgency is paramount.
This move comes in conjunction with the USPTO's announcement that the deadline for patent and trademark filings and fees for those due between March 27th and May 31st will be extended to June 1st. Granted, an extension is a bit less noteworthy than a database aimed at licensing needed patents, and as much the right move as a considerate one, but it's still worth noting when agencies do the right thing when so many groups seem set on doing the wrong thing.
Of course, the database is simply an intermediary, and we have no clue about how successful it might ultimately prove to be. Its usefulness presumes that companies will seek it out in looking to license patents for the tech they need, rather than going through other avenues. And it assumes that both parties are able to work together; a database put together ostensibly in the public interest is no guarantee that licensees won't try to exploit the situation of maximal financial gain, or that there won't be other malfeasance throughout the process.
When the history of this period is written, IP may play a central role; after all, we're hoping and waiting and biding time until a vaccine is created that might allow life to return to something like normal. How that vaccine is administered, and who is able to get it, might inform what people think of the concept of intellectual property. Will we have another Jonas Salk, willing to forego a patent in the interest of public good, or will we see financial incentives win out, with a single entity willing to extract a hefty price simply because they can? We can hope for the former, but the smart money would be on the latter.