Toyota and Canon among companies freeing patents to fight virus

TOKYO — About 20 Japanese companies, including Toyota Motor and Canon, will release patents and other intellectual property held in Japan and overseas for free to help fight the new coronavirus, Nikkei has learned.

The goal is to make it easier for businesses and research organizations to develop medical devices as well as testing and treatment technologies. The hope is that it will lead to a faster resolution of the crisis, which threatens to seriously affect the global economy.

The idea was initially proposed by Professor Fumihiko Matsuda, head of the Center for Genomic Medicine at the Graduate School of Medicine at Kyoto University. Nissan Motor, Honda Motor, Shimadzu, Ajinomoto Group and Tokyo-based SRL, a member of the Miraca Group, will also participate.

Organizers will continue to call on a wide range of companies to join the initiative. The group’s office will be located at GenoConcierge Kyoto, a startup launched out of Kyoto University.

All patents, utility model rights, design rights and copyrights owned by each company will, in principle, be made free of charge as long as they are for use in fighting the coronavirus. The companies will not exercise their exclusive intellectual property rights until the World Health Organization declares the global pandemic has ended. Several hundred thousand patents are expected to be opened via the cooperative effort.

One notable item among patents that will be released by Toyota is technology that can collect respiratory data from coronavirus patients without coming into physical contact with them. It was originally developed for use in nursing care robots. If doctors can more safely monitor patients’ breathing, then they can determine if they have pneumonia. The company’s production technology, which limits inventory and costs to the bare minimum, is likely to be a plus in making diagnostic machinery and pharmaceutical products.

Shimadzu’s small-scale X-ray equipment, meanwhile, is also likely to attract attention. The lungs of patients with COVID-19 often leave distinctive shapes in X-ray images. The company’s smaller devices will help hospitals flooded with the infected to take images more efficiently. That would help in determining the severity of each case, along with key determinations such as the best timing for medical intervention.

Patents have many benefits for companies and research organizations. Usually other companies that want to use a patent negotiate with the holder, but that often takes one to two years because of internal decision-making processes at the owning company. But under the cooperative arrangement, patents that will be released can be used immediately and free of charge, thus bypassing extended negotiations. Opening up the patents also avoids the risk that other companies would not be able to use the desired patent because of a failure to reach an agreement on conditions like usage fees.

Ideally the development of things including testing kits, machines to diagnose the medical condition of patients, devices to remotely transmit information and alcohol-based sanitizers can proceed more smoothly.

Companies that release their patents will not receive any direct benefit, but a faster end to the coronavirus pandemic would help minimize the impact of the economic downturn it has brought about.

The organizers of the initiative created a way for each company to easily participate so as to increase the effectiveness of freeing up the patents by drastically streamlining the amount of time it would normally take. Organizers simplified procedures so that companies need only download documents from a dedicated website, sign them and upload them back in order to join.

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