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How innovation, technology and patents can combat coronavirus

European Inventor Award winner Helen Lee

Innovation is one of humanity's best tools to fight the threat of the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2. Technologies that have been developed in response to other pandemics, e.g. influenza in 1968 and HIV, are saving lives today. Massive R&D investments are now being directed towards developing new technology responses to the virus, and the leap in COVID-19 related innovations is reflected in many sectors from pharmaceuticals to disinfectants and from IT diagnostics to smart furniture.

Patents play an important role in this context. They not only create incentives for companies and universities to invest in research, but also provide inventors with a rich source of technical information, often published nowhere else. Indeed, all patent applications worldwide are disclosed and made easily accessible to the public, which enables scientists and entrepreneurs to tap into a vast source of knowledge and inspiration to develop new inventions.

The EPO is committed to sharing with the public the most advanced patent information and knowledge on technologies that are useful in combating the virus or treating the disease it causes. This ties in with our vision of helping to make the world a safer, smarter and more sustainable place. For this purpose, EPO patent examiners who are experts in the technologies directed to the fight against coronavirus infections, together with our expert patent analysts, have created a variety of search statements to help scientists identify the most relevant documents in these technical fields.

These search strategies are designed to run on the EPO's free-to-use online patent search interface: Espacenet. This public database contains more than 120 million published patent applications from over 100 intellectual property authorities around the world. These documents disclose inventions, the patents for which may or may not be in force at that time or in a particular territory.  We also provide online training on how to use and make the most of Espacenet.

The EPO already delivers comprehensive patent searches for applications in all areas of technology in 4.4 months on average. For applicants who require a fast-track patent procedure, regardless of the technology they are developing, we offer accelerated prosecution of European patent applications free of charge. Applications will be automatically accelerated if a third party files observations.