The COVID-19 pandemic forced many companies to restructure their business operations. We took a look back and compiled an overview of the effects the coronavirus has had on business and innovation in 2020. We have faced vaccine and test development, the new rise of e-commerce and its nasty by-products, as well as solutions involving big data and artificial intelligence. These are the topics discussed by our customers and IP experts on Kolster’s blog in 2020.
Of all the innovations inspired by the pandemic, the most anticipated has probably been the coronavirus vaccine, the development of which is fuelled by intellectual property rights. As the number of patients to be tested keeps increasing, there is great demand for reliable techniques for identifying and diagnosing COVID-19 infection. Simon Mügge, PhD (Biochemistry) and European Patent Attorney, discusses various testing methods in his blog article, as well as new opportunities that the pandemic has provided for innovative pharmaceutical companies.
The whole planet seemed to gasp in shock when former US President Donald Trump tried to buy exclusive rights to the vaccine for the USA. While it is possible to have exclusive rights to the vaccine, in practice this is an unlikely solution. That is because patent legislation provides for a situation where a company obtains exclusive rights to a vaccine and does not share or license it to a sufficient extent. In cases of overriding public interest, a court may issue a compulsory licence on a country-specific basis.
“For example, a court decision might grant permission to manufacture the coronavirus vaccine in Finland. The compulsory licence has been applied especially in the case of pharmaceuticals, and India, for example, has granted compulsory licences for the manufacture of HIV drugs,” says Kolster’s European Patent Attorney Krister Karlsson in an article on the coronavirus on our blog.
The restrictions on movement drove consumers from brick and mortar to online stores, followed quickly by fraudsters. In Britain, The Independent reported that British authorities learned about 21 coronavirus-related Internet frauds in February whose financial value was around £800,000. In mid-March, the Finnish National Cyber Security Centre warned that coronavirus-related scams had spread to Finland.
The demand for face masks drove both the companies that manufacture masks and those that buy them to make some quick decisions and attracted new entrepreneurs to the industry. It is important to keep in mind that if a mask seller uses a fabric or pattern that is not their own design, they may inadvertently be committing an intellectual property infringement.
“An entrepreneur may be committing an infringement even if selling face masks is not their principal industry, or if the seller is a private individual who only sells a small number of masks they have made themselves at a flea market or online,” says Kolster’s IP lawyer Maria Ojala.
“The party committing the infringement may have to pay compensation to the IP owner and, in the worst case scenario, be liable for damages. In addition, the products involved in the infringement must be withdrawn from the market. That is why a good rule of thumb in business is to always carry out a preliminary assessment.”
While many countries struggling with the crisis caused by the coronavirus were acquiring ventilators and other protective equipment all at the same time, fraudulent operators were also trying their luck, for example, in China. Many companies found that they did not always get what they had ordered from a supplier. That is why it pays to always check the vendor firms’ background carefully before making a purchase.
“A careful background check will tell you whether the company offering the products is exactly what it says it is, for example, in terms of its age or experience. At the same time, it’s a good idea to check matters related to the product and trademark, such as how long the trademark has been in force, whether the product has a CE marking and whether the company has an export licence,” says Leena-Maija Marsio, Director of Kolster’s Legal and Trademarks unit, while explaining how to avoid fraudsters.
If you have had a coronavirus test, the technology for it is likely to have been supplied by the molecular diagnostics company Mobidiag. When the coronavirus pandemic struck, the company launched easy-to-use, reliable and quick COVID-19 tests at a swift pace. Now Mobidiag’s tests are routinely used in many of Europe’s leading laboratories.
“The diagnostic solutions currently available do not fully meet the needs of clinical laboratories and healthcare providers. Traditional culture methods are inexpensive, but they are also slow, laborious, and not always reliable. Many other methods, on the other hand, are complex and expensive to use. We provide laboratories with efficient molecular diagnostics for routine use at a reasonable cost,” Mobidiag’s CEO Tuomas Tenkanen explains.
Instead of getting discouraged and giving up, many companies found a way to turn the new circumstances resulting from the pandemic to good use. Confidex specialises in RFID technology, i.e. wireless solutions that utilise radio frequencies, and recognised the new business opportunities the pandemic offered.
“There is now great demand for contactless tickets in public transport. In addition, RFID technology can be utilised to monitor people for the purpose of curbing the coronavirus pandemic, so that exposed individuals can be identified, tracked and treated. This kind of people tracking also fits well with Confidex’s business strategy,” says Timo Lindström, CEO of Confidex.
New steps were also taken by Vauhti Speed, which specialises in ski wax technologies. When pharmacies ran out of hand sanitiser, the company harnessed its production lines for the intensive manufacture of hand sanitiser at lightning speed. Their production was designed to tackle the shortage of the product in the crisis.
“We harnessed our maximum capacity of 20,000 bottles to the intensive production of hand sanitiser in three shifts to meet the acute need in Finland,” says the company’s CEO Esa Puukilainen, PhD (Chemistry).
The quiet phase of the prevailing exceptional circumstances gave people time to focus on things they had ignored during busier times, providing them a good opportunity to look at their IPR portfolio and make sure that IPR yields them good returns.
“Spending your quiet time wisely is a direct investment in the future of your company, and compiling, for example, an IPR strategy to support your business operations or making sure your IPR portfolio is up to date is a smart idea. The most sensible approach is to prepare for the future by developing your business operations, investing in product development and seeking new solutions,” says Patent Agent Liisa Nieminen in her blog article published during the first coronavirus wave in April.
As the coronavirus pandemic continues to turn the market upside down, the number of company acquisitions is expected to rise. Now, more than ever, is the time to examine what your own or a competing company’s IP portfolio contains – and what it is worth.
“Strong companies have an excellent opportunity to accelerate their growth through acquisitions. An assessment by an external expert can reveal, for example, attractive patents in a bankruptcy estate. It may save the day for a company that has run into difficulties,” says Kolster’s CEO Timo Helosuo, while instructing entrepreneurs on acquisitions carried out under exceptional circumstances.
Opening up after the first wave of the coronavirus, the Chinese market offered companies numerous opportunities to grow and conquer familiar and completely new industries. In addition to healthcare products and services, online services that are related to education, trade and distance work and that help to keep society’s wheels turning became particularly attractive.
“Companies that offer remote applications or cloud services have an excellent chance of expanding quickly in China, as the Chinese are keen to adopt such services right now. Licensing much sought-after technologies in China also offers companies great new opportunities,” says European Patent Attorney Kati Leinonen, discussing the channels to new markets.
Companies’ reorientation in China is also accelerated by the country’s social credit rating, which has been changed due to the coronavirus. With it, the Chinese government seeks to guide companies to act in the desired manner by providing them with a score and, for example, tax relief. As more and more new operators enter the market faster and faster, the likelihood of IPR infringements increases. In addition to monitoring their own IPR, companies must also take care not to inadvertently infringe on others’ rights.
In China, it is also prohibited to use brand names related to coronavirus, doctors or medical supplies, among other things. However, this prohibition does not seem to have slowed down fraudsters.
“So-called trademark hijackers are quick and ready to take advantage of every opportunity,” says Kolster’s trademark specialist Jani Kaulo, warning customers of swindlers whose aim it is to cash in on the global disaster.
In curbing a pandemic, it is important to be able to quickly decide to make data available to a sufficient number of parties. As we get better at utilising big data, privacy protection and the related legislation must also evolve.
“There is a need to redefine who can use the data, in what circumstances, and what counts as misuse of the data. Further consideration must also be given to the kinds of exceptional situations in which the rules can be bent. In health care, for instance, disclosure of information is critical to patient wellbeing: for example, when a child’s need for care is analysed using one solution, a better care recommendation may be provided with a second application, utilising the information from the first one. If the information cannot be disclosed, the need for care may never come to the attention of the patient’s parents,” says Director of Kolster’s Legal and Trademark unit Leena-Maija Marsio in our poll on innovations that are changing the IP industry.
In the United States, AI was harnessed to solve the coronavirus crisis as companies sought opportunities to develop their business with new technologies and innovations inspired by the coronavirus.
“We have been forced to learn and adopt new technologies, platforms and forms of collaboration based on cloud services and 5G technology. The advances being made relate to minimising the effects of the coronavirus: for example, ventilators are being developed collaboratively, and efforts are being made to trace the symptoms of the virus using AI-powered predictive analysis. Focusing on the development of AI technologies, such as open-source AI platforms, will also lead to new partnerships and cooperation agreements between companies,” says Patrick Keane, Executive Shareholder at IPR and law firm Buchanan, Ingersoll & Rooney, while discussing the development of AI solutions in the USA.
What two trends will stir up the IPR field in 2021? Read Marjut Honkasalo's blog.
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