Imagine you are a creative person and you invent something with significant commercial potential. Should you fulfil the legal obligation to your employer and apply for a patent, or should you share your great idea with the wider public and make it freely available for anyone to exploit? This tricky issue places many of us on the horns of a delicate dilemma. At CapeRay we adopted an industry-standard policy that any inventions by staff belong to the company which reserves the right to apply for patent protection.
CapeRay currently owns three United States patents: a novel method for reconstructing 3D images from a limited number of 2D X-ray images, relevant for DBT or digital breast tomosynthesis (6,788,758); a technique for acquiring dual-modality images – X-rays and ultrasound – that protects our current Aceso system and, as seen below right, future products based on DBT (9,636,073); and a method for assembling a breast-scanning housing (10,220,574). In addition, we have another two patents that are pending and under examination: a novel approach to integrate automated breast ultrasound and DBT; and a method for attaching an acoustic polymer to a carbon-fibre enclosure. Our intellectual property undoubtedly represents considerable value.
This dilemma bears on the current crisis with which we are all dealing: the coronavirus. An opinion piece in The Guardian has the provocative title, “Could a patent get in between you and a Covid-19 test? Yes.” The authors described a hypothetical scenario where a single company held a patent covering all methods of testing for Covid-19 antibodies and used its monopoly to charge exorbitant prices and prohibit competitors from manufacturing the tests. This has happened before, when Bayer had an effective treatment for anthrax, and Myriad Genetics owned a diagnostic test for breast cancer.
Earlier this week, the World Health Organisation (WHO) passed a resolution that backed the rights of poor countries to circumvent intellectual property in a public health emergency, thus enabling their citizens to gain access to diagnostics, treatments and vaccines for Covid-19. Countries with strong pharmaceutical sectors – including the UK, USA, Switzerland and Japan – sought to emphasise equitable access through voluntary mechanisms, but their initiative failed to gain support of the majority.
Inventors are not only motivated by the financial incentive of securing a patent. Many are driven by altruism, curiosity and, perhaps, the recognition received when inventing something that might save millions of lives. At CapeRay we continue to believe in the power of the patent, and yet we also recognise our products should be priced so they are widely available to all women.