The Netherlands Joins COVID-19 IP Pool Initiative; Kentucky Governor Requests 3M Release N95 Patent
An N95 respirator, used during the COVID-19 pandemic to protect healthcare workers against infection

Dutch Deputy Prime Minister Hugo de Jonge on Wednesday offered to support the World Health Organization to develop a pool of intellectual property rights for COVID-19 technologies, just days after WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus announced WHO’s public support for the initiative.

“In principle, I am sympathetic to this initiative,” Minister de Jonge wrote in an update on the Netherlands’ COVID-19 response on Tuesday. “The development of this initiative in relation to the availability and affordability of vaccines must take place in the coming period.”

This makes the Netherlands the latest country to back a call by Costa Rica to establish a freely accessible pool of rights for tools to fight the pandemic. Rights holders would voluntarily contribute IP rights on any data, treatments, diagnostics, vaccines, or COVID-19 technologies to the pool, which would then be made available to a number of manufacturers to quickly scale up production and access to such tools.

These rights “must be made available to everyone for free, or for a reasonable license fee,” said de Jonge.

Dr Tedros first publicly announced WHO’s commitment to the Costa Rica proposal on Monday, adding that WHO was currently working with Costa Rica to “finalize the details.”

The Board of UN-backed Medicines Patent Pool, which manages a “pool” of patent rights for essential medicines, announced its support for the COVID-19 IP pool last week, temporarily expanding its mandate outside of medicines and treatments.

Kentucky Governor Requests 3M Release N95 Patent

Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear called on the United States-based company 3M to release its patents for N95 respirators – a type of protective mask in desperately short supply during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The procurement is incredibly difficult, as is the manufacture because it’s under patent,” Beshear said in a press conference on 1 April. He added that it was the company’s “patriotic duty” to license the N95 patents “to the nation” during the pandemic so that “everybody else can manufacture it.”

While 3M is not the only producer of N95s, it is the largest domestic producer. The company holds 441 patents in the US that mention ‘N95’ or ‘respirator,’ according to a list from James Love, director of Knowledge Ecology International, a patent watchdog group. The newest respirator-related patent granted to 3M was approved just yesterday, on 7 April 2020.

The respirators are used by healthcare workers in order to protect against the virus, and offer much better protection than surgical masks. However, due to the extreme shortage of respirators around the world, most hospitals in the US are running low or completely out of the protective masks. Many have resorted to rationing the N95s to one per physician every two to three days, or collecting and sanitizing them after use. Under normal circumstances, N95s are discarded after each use.

Beshear’s comments come just on the wake of US President Donald Trump’s invocation of the ‘Defense Production Act,’ a Korean War era law that allows the federal government to redirect domestic industries’ capacities towards wartime production.

See The Courier Journal for more on this story.

Image Credits: OSHA's Respiratory Protection Standard 29 CFR 1910.134.