COVID-19 has set great challenges in 2020, but the current pandemic cannot be allowed to distract us from a much greater challenge to be overcome: climate change. Communities worldwide are searching constantly for solutions to combat the effects of climate change, and it is increasingly recognized that technology will be part of the solution.
That is why this year the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) has decided to dedicate World Intellectual Property Day 2020 to a “green” future, to focus attention on innovation and on the intellectual property rights that support it.
Sustainable technologies are essential to overcome global challenges. This is why WIPO has unveiled WIPO GREEN, an online platform for technology exchange where the principal objective is to disseminate information about sustainable technologies protected by intellectual property rights, to encourage contact between providers and seekers of this kind of technology.
Protecting intellectual property is therefore essential, not only to promote innovation in sustainable technologies but also to combat the threat of COVID-19.
Massive investments in R&D are now being made to develop new technological responses to COVID-19. New solutions are also emerging in other sectors, mirroring the gradual changes in our way of life as a result of the virus: entertainment, online games, videoconferencing and social media, to name but a few.
All this makes it crucially important to protect the intellectual property rights that derive from these innovations. Patents play an important role here. Not only do they create incentives for companies and universities to invest in research, they also provide inventors with a rich source of technical information.
To facilitate access to the patent information available in their databases, many patent offices have set up online sections dedicated to technologies for combating COVID-19. Aspiring companies can take advantage of this access to accelerate the development and implementation of diagnostic tools, vaccines, treatments, and medical devices in the current urgent world crisis. In addition to the WIPO and the European Patent Office (EPO), the Italian Patent and Trademark Office (IPTO) has also created an anti-COVID-19 section in the Italian national database of biotechnology inventions. In addition to this, many patent offices have implemented or provided some services free of charge to help inventors with new filings. During the lockdown, for example, the Swiss Federal Institute of Intellectual Property (IIP) gave users assisted search services and assisted contextual analysis services free of charge.
With the spread of COVID-19, we are also seeing people filing misleading trademarks for “COVID” and “coronavirus”. This bizarre phenomenon is not new: trending topics in current affairs are often followed by a rash of trademark applications filed by opportunists who think they can get exclusive rights to something that has captured the world's attention. The trend reflects the worst of the capitalist ethic and the desire to exploit global events to get rich quick.
Anyone who files such applications is clearly unaware that terms like “COVID” and “coronavirus” are not eligible to function as trademarks. Such registration applications will probably be rejected by many trademark offices owing to lack of distinctiveness, if not for actually being contrary to public morality.
Speculation aside, we are definitely witnessing a tipping point. Climate change and COVID-19 are acting as accelerators of change and are driving us to innovate to supersede existing models. Today, innovation needs to be open and shared, not only to carry out its historic function of awarding the developer a competitive advantage, but also, at the same time, to allow the collective to use it, for the development and progress of the entire community.
A quote often attributed to Albert Einstein goes: “A crisis can be a real blessing to any person, to any nation. For all crises bring progress. Creativity is born from anguish, just like the day is born form the dark night. It’s in crisis that inventiveness is born, as well as discoveries made and big strategies. He who overcomes crisis, overcomes himself, without getting overcome.”