Open Sourcing COVID-19 Vaccines

Open source licensing could help build sustainable vaccine manufacturing capacity within low – and middle-income countries.

Schweik has studied open source software that comes with an associated copyright license that promotes free and broad sharing. This licensing dates back to the mid-1980s. The invention of the “General Public License,” sometimes referred to as a viral or reciprocal license, meant that should an improvement be made, the new software version automatically inherits the same license as its parent. We believe that in a time of a global pandemic, a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine should be licensed with General Public License-like properties.

It turns out, in the early days of the Industrial Revolution, in an effort to rapidly develop standardized small arms parts, the U.S. Army and the Springfield Massachusetts Armory gave contractors open access to designs of new manufacturing equipment with the explicit requirement that if they improved the machines or processes related to them, they had to share these innovations with the national armories and their rival contractors. If these organizations did not comply, they would likely be denied future contractual opportunities. In essence, the armory established a contracting policy similar to General Public License invented roughly 150 years later, which then led to rapid innovation.

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