Covid-19 should spark a reexamination of trade secrets’ stranglehold on information

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July 10, 2020

As the world struggles to confront the Covid-19 pandemic, how to handle access to trade secrets — information that is valuable because others do not know it — is one of the myriad challenges to achieving safe and effective vaccines, diagnostics, and treatments for the people of the world.

The most famous trade secret is the Coca-Cola formula. If someone accessed that formula who wasn’t supposed to, a misappropriation lawsuit from Coca-Cola would soon follow. While a scenario like that may seem foreign to the Covid-19 pandemic, trade secrecy spans a shockingly broad range of critical and lifesaving information.

This poses a problem because if information is accessible to more than just the trade secret’s owner, it could lead to greater and more rapid advances against Covid-19, while helping to assure that medical services and vaccines would be affordable for all. But treated as a valuable commodities held by various property owners, Covid-19 trade secrets could be used without regard to public health or the best interests of the world’s people.

Often labeled as confidential information or proprietary information, trade secrets encompass vast quantities of information needed to discover, test, create, and manufacture diagnostics, treatments, and vaccines. They are everywhere in the battle to defeat Covid-19, from clinical data to pharmaceutical manufacturing processes.

Potential trade secrets include manufacturing processes, test data, medical formulas, and more. For vaccines and other biologic medicines, cell lines, genomic information, and other biological material can also be held as trade secrets. Data about the effectiveness of medicines and vaccines are trade secrets. Even so-called negative information — information about what does not work — can be a trade secret.

Read the full piece at STAT News