The British government has announced that UK firms manufacturing ventilators for use in combating the COVIC-19 pandemic will be protected by the government from the financial impact of potential legal claims arising over intellectual property infringements or personal injury caused by defective machines.

This comes after the Minister for the Cabinet Office, Michael Gove, wrote to the Chairs of the Public Accounts and the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committees to set out the government’s offer to indemnify manufacturers of ventilators against potential IP infringement or personal injury claims.

Commenting on this welcome intervention by the government, David Knight, IP lawyer at Fieldfisher, said:

“While this will be welcome news to businesses who have been manufacturing ventilators in order to meet the increased demand caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, such as Dyson and Rolls Royce; interestingly, the Government has not commented on the monetary value of the protection it is offering; however, Gove’s letter notes that ‘It is normal practice, when a government department proposes to undertake a contingent liability in excess of £3m … for the Minister concerned to present a departmental Minute to Parliament’.

“Despite no clarity on the specifics of the monetary value, it is nonetheless welcome news that manufacturers can meet increased public demand without the fear of facing costly and time-consuming litigation. Whereas, normally, if new ventilator production is based on existing models, manufacturers could have faced the risk of being sued for infringement of any third party patents or design rights in those models; the Government’s indemnity intends on shielding manufacturers from such IP infringement claims.

“Manufacturers may also derive some additional comfort from the fact that in the current climate, IP rights holders will perhaps be less likely to bring a claim against a manufacturer which is producing life-saving devices during a time of national crisis. This should see the market opening up to more manufacturers who are able to copy patents and design rights of existing models.

“The key debate, which people will be reluctant to voice, will be from those in the life sciences sector who are the IP rights holders and would have usually defended infringement quite fiercely. They could also be impacted by this move in the long-term.”

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