' Andrew Lee | MTTLR

Intellectual Property Law in the Era of COVID-19

Basic research conducted by scientists at federally funded academic laboratories has been essential to the rapid development of COVID-19 vaccines, and the federal government has poured billions of dollars into vaccine companies since the pandemic began to accelerate the delivery of their products. However, coronavirus vaccines are likely to be worth billions to the drug industry, and even though vaccine supplies are steadily improving, groups like Doctors Without Borders are urging governments to seize the patents on any coronavirus therapies from taxpayer-funded research to prevent price gouging. Patentholders object to government intervention because their implementation would set a dangerous precedent and interfere with people’s incentives to invest in research and development for future treatments and vaccines. However, given the state of the current public health crisis, the U.S. may opt to take such drastic measures to ensure a COVID-19 vaccine is widely accessible, and their legal implications should be studied carefully. March-In Rights Under the Bayh-Dole Act If key patents for an approved vaccine are publicly funded, the federal government may be able to exercise its march-in rights under the Bayh-Dole Act of 1980. The Moderna vaccine, for example, emerged directly out of a partnership between Moderna and a federally funded academic laboratory. March-in rights were included to prevent big businesses from licensing federally funded technologies from universities, only to shelve the technologies and not commercialize them. In specific circumstances, the U.S. government has the right to “march-in” and either grant licenses or require the patent holder/licensee to grant licenses to third parties if several conditions are satisfied. If the U.S. government decides to exercise its march-in rights, the...