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The Changing Face of Intellectual Property. Designer forgoes intellectual property rights to help fight virus

April 9, 2020, By

Last month I looked at whether in times of global crisis the attitude on how we share intellectual property may change. I reflected that ‘big pharma’ may see fit to co-operate with each other and government agencies to speed the development and deployment of an affordable vaccine for Covid-19. Since then I have been on the hunt for examples of those who are prepared to take a longer view on the protection and gainful exploitation of their inventions to bring some relief in the current situation.

First prize must go to Cristian Fracassi an inventor who came to the rescue of his local hospital in Brescia, Northern Italy that had run out of the disposable valves needed to mix the air and oxygen on its breathing masks. Hearing that the hospital was in short supply Fracassi adapted a small plastic tube and used a 3D printer to supply 100 valves in short order.  After supplying the valves, a doctor suggested Fracassi adapt a full-face snorkel mask for hospitals that didn’t have enough oxygen masks. Fracassi was quick off the mark again. He ordered the snorkel masks in from a sports retailer and set about adapting them for hospital use. He then shared his valve design online. It’s reported to have been downloaded over 2 million times. Brazil has 3000 patients using the masks at which point Fracassi seems to have felt duty bound to issue a statement clarifying that the devices have not cleared all the usual permission needed for medical devices to be on the market.

The story is heart-warming and also inspirational. Fracassi is not as may appear at first blush a lone inventor ignorant of the potential rewards afforded by intellectual property protection. In fact, he heads a 14 strong start up design agency called Isinnova. A quick search of the patent register shows that the business has filed patents for things as diverse as technology for detecting earthquakes to a new type of plaster that can be ripped off without detaching the underlying scab. He is therefore knowingly not worrying about protecting any rights his business has and getting product which is urgently needed out there.

Does he or his business stand to gain anything at all?  Certainly, it does. Before this week I had not heard of Fracassi or Isinnova. I do not know whether he sought publicity for himself or his business (a legitimate strategy) or whether he has attracted publicity in any event.  However, for the foreseeable future I am keen to find someone in need of a design house with a twist I can perhaps recommend him too. While a valve is a device for allowing movement in one direction only – in this case I very much hope that all that goes around comes around.

Written by Margaret Briffa, Solicitor

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