Long-term success in the medical response to COVID-19 will depend on diagnostics, therapeutics, equipment, vaccines, tracking systems and software (F. Tietze et al. IEEE Trans. Eng. Manage. http://doi.org/d3z6; 2020). However, restrictions on their use resulting from patents, copyrights and other intellectual property (IP) rights could cost lives. The Open COVID Pledge, launched in April, enables organizations to make their IP widely available without charge.

The pledge now covers more than 250,000 patents worldwide (see opencovidpledge.org), and was created by an international coalition of scientists, engineers and legal experts. Organizations license their IP through an online agreement that is based on those used for open-source software and technical interoperability standards, as well as through the popular Creative Commons suite of online-content licences. The agreement can also be customized.

We urge companies and universities to take advantage of this scheme, or one of the many options being developed by the World Health Organization and others, to ensure the most effective use of their IP against the pandemic.