Covid-Related U.S. Patents Get Fast Track for Small Business

Covid-Related U.S. Patents to Be Fast-Tracked for Small Business

(Bloomberg) -- Small businesses working on coronavirus-related drugs or treatments can get patents in as few as six months under a new program announced by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

“Independent inventors and small businesses are often the difference makers when it comes to cutting-edge innovation and the growth of our economy,” patent office Director Andrei Iancu said in a statement on Friday. “They are also in most need of assistance as we fight this pandemic.”

A typical patent application takes about 15 months just to get a first response from an examiner, according to the agency’s annual report. Companies can pay extra fees to get an expedited review, though few applicants take that route.

The new prioritized review won’t cost extra money, but it’s limited to firms that can be classified as a “small or micro” entity, which would include independent inventors, companies with fewer than 500 employees, people working for institutes of higher education, and non-profit groups. These groups already pay less in regular application fees than big companies.

The applications also “must cover a product or process that is subject to U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval for use in the prevention and/or treatment of Covid-19,” the agency said.

Small companies often have trouble attracting investors to help fund their research, and patents are one criteria to insure venture capitalists that they might get a return on their investment. Patents give their owners a limited exclusive right to their work in return for making the invention public.

“They’re trying to do as much as they can to spur innovation,” said Christopher Halliday, a partner at Morgan Lewis in Philadelphia who said he has a client who’s already planning to make use of the program. The fast-track process is geared toward “the small entities and micro-entities -- your garage inventors, if you will -- the innovation engine in a lot of ways,” Halliday said.

Still, some patient advocates have called for limits on patent rights related to the treatment or prevention of the coronavirus, concerned that they might be used to control availability and lead to increased costs.

University researchers around the world have pledged to ensure their work is freely available as scientists race to find a vaccine or treatment for the virus that’s infected millions and killed more than 270,000 people, including more than 76,000 in the U.S.

The new program by the patent office is part a larger effort to make public ideas that could help end the pandemic. The patent office already created a portal where patent owners can post Covid-related patents that are available for licensing. AUTM, the group that represents university technology transfer offices, has a site where scientists can post the results of university and government research.

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