The Niskanen Center is proud to announce its support for the Open COVID Pledge. In doing so, we are also publishing all Niskanen content–including content related to the COVID-19 pandemic–under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License (CC BY 4.0).

The Open COVID Pledge–created in early April by a group of scientists, lawyers, academics, entrepreneurs, and individuals–is designed to encourage firms, nonprofits, and individuals with knowledge and ideas useful in combating the current pandemic to make their tools available to all. This will accelerate the development of information and technologies needed to fight the spread of COVID-19.

As a public policy think tank, our aim is to make the ideas and content our staff produces as widely available as possible. This is especially true in the crisis facing humanity today. This is why Niskanen adopted the general Creative Commons Attribution license along with our support for the Open COVID Pledge.

Now, more than ever, ideas and technologies must be made available to combat the current pandemic. The paradox of patents, as Joan Robinson wrote in The Accumulation of Capital, is that “by slowing down the diffusion of technological progress it ensures that there will be more progress to diffuse.” The same logic holds for copyright as well. But now is the time for all progress that has been made so far to diffuse as quickly as possible. To that end, whatever tools are currently available to slow the crisis should be easily accessible for either direct use or improvement.

It is true that many businesses rely on this “paradox” to recoup the upfront costs of R&D. The nonrivalrous, nonexcludable nature of ideal objects makes the calculus for investing in ideal objects different from that of investing in physical ones, and policies aimed to encourage the development of innovations needed to fight COVID-19 must be designed with this fact in mind. Our current intellectual property regime is an important part of the innovation policy toolkit. But in the face of depression-levels of unemployment and economic contraction, along with the contagious nature of COVID-19, we must search for solutions that still promote innovation while also guaranteeing access to these tools.

Some private-sector firms and academic institutions are making potentially life-saving technologies freely available, and significant investment by the Federal Government through the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) has been made through partnerships with biotechnology and pharmaceutical firms. Niskanen hopes that going forward, both the recipients of these contracts and government entities will recognize the role the government has played in the upfront financing of the research. We further hope that this leads to the development of policies that make their technologies freely available for all to use, without sacrificing innovation.

We encourage all institutions with intellectual property, both patents and copyrights, to make their content freely available during the current crisis to the extent they can afford it. You can join members and supporters of the Open COVID Pledge–tech firms, academic institutions, industry organizations, and nonprofits–by following the steps listed on the Open COVID Pledge’s website.