Definition & Overview

According to WIPO, patent pools are defined as an agreement made between two or more patent holders for licensing their patents to one another or any third party for the purpose of sharing their intellectual property rights. Generally, patents pools are made for complex technologies which necessitate complementary patents for providing productive technical solutions. These patent pools impart essential technologies by way of patents to various companies or firms for developing competent products. Moreover, patent pools also cover those technologies which are not yet full-fledged developed.

Patent rights of various technologies are assigned among various patent holders in such patent pools and the pooled patents are made available to member and non-member licensees. Such patent pools ensure that the licensing fees which is collected is appropriately allocated to each member in proportion to each patent's value.

Role of Medicine Patent Pool (MPP)

Medicines Patent Pool (MPP) is a United Nations-backed international organization founded in July 2010, based in Geneva, Switzerland. It was founded by Unitaid (a global health initiative that collaborates with potential partners to make medical innovations to prevent, diagnose and treat major diseases in low- and middle-income countries, with an emphasis on tuberculosis (TB), Hepatitis C, and HIV/AIDS and other co-infections) to negotiate patent agreements/contracts with pharmaceutical companies that can facilitate access for generic manufacturers.

In the past few years, MPP has negotiated voluntary licensing agreements that have made it accessible for low-income countries to purchase affordable treatments for HIV, TB, and Hepatitis C. In 2019, licensing agreements negotiated by MPP have saved various countries $210 million and helped avail two billion (approx.) doses of such medications.

MPP is based on the model that patents are intended to reward innovations, and a patent, if not licensed, can prevent the production or sale of affordable generic medicines and the development of novel innovations. The MPP negotiates with patent holders for licenses on HIV, hepatitis C and tuberculosis medicines. Such licenses allow generic drug manufacturers to distribute patented medicines in low- and middle-income countries and also, provide the freedom to develop new treatments.

How Patent Pooling can help?

MPP seeks voluntary licenses from the patent holders of antiretroviral drugs to create a pooled resource of patent innovations. Pharmaceutical companies and innovators can then access the pooled patent rights to develop or manufacture the new and adapted innovations necessary for sale in developing countries. This model eliminates the trouble and expense of negotiating licenses where various patent holders may hold rights in a single innovation.

  • For patent holders: MPP offers royalty influx from various countries and provides a collaborative platform for easy access to develop the necessary.
  • For innovators: The Patent Pool brings down the price of licensing the already patented technology to develop the new medicines.

In a nutshell, MPP’s model works for both pharmaceutical manufacturers/innovators and public health.

Contribution during COVID 19

The MPP is helping by gathering patent information for products already being tested in clinical trials, such as antiviral remdesivir and the biologic tocilizumab, in few countries. MPP also stated that they have made available the mentioned drugs via their online database, MedsPaL. It is a repository of patent intelligence established to allow countries and pharmaceutical companies to identify patents that could hinder access to new innovations, if unlicensed.

MPP, on 3rd April, 2020, Geneva made a statement: “The Board of the Medicines Patent Pool (MPP) has decided to temporarily expand its mandate to include any health technology that could contribute to the global response to COVID-19 and where licensing could facilitate innovation and access. With the support of Unitaid, this will allow MPP to offer its IP and licensing expertise to the World Health Organization (WHO) to assist the global effort in any way it can”.

Marie-Paule Kieny, Chair of the MPP Governance Board, said, “In these difficult times, the MPP Board recognises the important role that MPP can play to increase access to life-saving products for those who need them most. And importantly, with time of the essence, to ensure that we make use of the expertise and mechanisms that already exist.”

Marisol Touraine, Chair of the Unitaid Executive Board and former French Minister of Health and Social Affairs, said, “Unitaid is fully engaged in the global response to COVID-19 and supports the call by the President of Costa Rica for voluntary pooling of intellectual property rights for medicines and diagnostics to promote the global fight against COVID-19. The Medicines Patent Pool, set up and funded by Unitaid a decade ago, has a proven track record and is immediately available to the WHO to begin this urgent work.

Unitaid announced to commit an initial US$30 million of investment to innovative treatment, diagnostics and respiratory triage tools as part of the global response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

MPP is regularly updating its patent intelligence database, MedsPaL, with the status of candidate products during COVID-19 and will continue to update as and when the new patented candidates emerge to find the cure during the COVID-19 pandemic. Already included candidate products in the database for COVID-19: Remdesivir, Lopinvir/Ritonavir, Favipiravir; and two biologics: Tocilizumab and Sarilumab.

End Notes

Patent pooling can ensure accelerating the development of a medicine for COVID-19 while being transparent about all the legalities,  patent rights and teaming big pharma companies with generics companies around the world to create the required medicine(s) for  the low- and middle-income countries. It will be a win-win situation as the patent holders will receive  royalties for their innovations, thereby maintaining their income influx while the low- and middle-income countries would get the access to the much needed medications at affordable prices.

Another advantage of the patent pooling is that generic drug manufacturing companies can combine different medications into single/fixed doses to create better medicines. For example, ViiV Healthcare contributed (2014) to MPP by providing dolutegravir, an antiretroviral drug for HIV to its pool resource, thereby allowing generic drug manufacturing companies to create an affordable version of the anti-HIV drug.