EIFL worked with partner organizations in drafting an open letter to the Director-General of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), Dr Francis Gurry, calling on WIPO to ensure that intellectual property (IP) systems are a support, not a hindrance, in global efforts to tackle the coronavirus crisis, and its consequences. The letter was signed initially by more than 140 organizations and individuals in 33 countries. Update 16 April: the letter has been endorsed by over 500 organizations and individuals in more than 45 countries.
The open letter highlights how the pandemic has shone a bright light on the importance of limitations and exceptions to IP rights to enable scientific discovery and human flourishing. For example, a Canadian text and data mining project that scoured copyrighted news articles, among other data, enabled researchers at a start-up company to send the first warnings to the world of the spread of the virus. The research was enabled by Canada’s flexible fair dealing right for research purposes. And the earliest potential treatments for the virus are being enabled by experimental use exceptions to patent rights on existing medicines.
The letter acknowledges helpful responses by rightsholders in easing access to academic publications and research data, but these cannot fulfill all the access gaps in the current crisis. It urges Dr. Gurry to use his position as leader of the global body that sets international IP law and policy to address four key issues:
- Encourage WIPO member states to take advantage of flexibilities in the international IP system (such as limitations and exceptions) that permit uses of IP-protected works for online education, research, access to medicine and culture;
- Call on all rightsholders to remove licensing restrictions that inhibit remote education, research and access, including across borders, to help address the global pandemic, and to minimise the disruption caused by it;
- Support the call by Costa Rica for the World Health Organization to create a global pool of rights in COVID-19 related technology;
- Support countries’ rights to enact and use exceptions to trade secrets and other intellectual property rights, for example, to manufacturing processes and product blueprints that are needed to achieve universal and equitable access to COVID-19 medicines and medical technologies.
We are living in unprecedented times when schools, universities, libraries, archives, museums and research institutes across the world have been forced to close their buildings, fundamentally changing their operations overnight. Huge efforts are being made by librarians, educators, and researchers to adapt to the new reality as front-line research now depends entirely on online collaboration and digital data, classroom teaching moves online, and librarians are looking for ways to provide emergency access to their collections for scholarship, knowledge, and culture.
People around the world are playing their part, it’s important that the IP system plays its part too.
EIFL advocates at WIPO for an international copyright framework to enable libraries to fully utilize digital technologies, to properly support modern science and research practices, and to fulfill their public interest mission in providing equitable access to knowledge in every country, and across borders. WIPO alone has the mandate to set global rules, and only WIPO can solve the issue of cross-border access.