Italian hospital needed an $11K part for its ventilators, volunteers 3D printed them at $1 each, original manufacturer threatened to sue

Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2020/03/18/italian-hospital-needed-an-11.html

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This would be a patent in the US rather than a copyright. I don’t know if Italian law requires the company to fight active infringement in order to keep the patent/copyright but the smart thing would be to license the IP to some group of Makers on the cheap so that the company maintains the IP, the unavailable parts get made, and lives are saved.

Threatening to sue is the wrong way to go. What’s to stop the Italian government from taking over the patent much like India is doing with various drugs. Stupid.

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Abolish all IP laws is all I’m gonna say.

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Link to translation of original article, with pics of the valves.

It looks like the part of a ventilator that comes out of a trachaostome (in the throat for long-term ventilation.

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@garethb2 is it an 11K or 1K part? The post says both.

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I note nobody wants to mention the name of the company. That’s a shame - we should remember those who value their profits so highly after the storm has passed.

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Techdirt article says 10k Euros, so $11k.

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That would merely make things far worse. Especially for independent developers, artists, and creators. Not a solution whatsoever

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original manufacturer is an asshole, although I suspect this falls into the “if you don’t defend your patent you lose it” theory. IANAL, so take that with a huge grain of salt, but it may be that they are looking to the future rather than current usage.

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Once COVID-19 is brought under control, we’ll want to look at bringing neoliberalism under control, too. We’ve seen that letting either run rampant is bad for humans.

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There is absolutely no such thing. Neither patents nor copyrights can ever be lost due to non-enforcement. Only Trademarks can, and even then it’s not simply a “you didn’t defend it”, but it has to be part of a much larger pattern of complete abandonment, or the name becoming generic.

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I’m not up on Italian law- but I think it would be possible to create a limited license if defending the patent is the issue. Create a license permitting 3d printing for a set duration. Or until revoked by the patent owner. Charge the maker a nominal fee- say 2 euros, to make sure the license is valid with the inclusion of several hold-hold-harmless clauses in case a valve breaks or something.
If I were that company’s legal counsel, I would advise this. I would also advise providing the 3d file under a DNR, some expertise on which 3d plastic would be best, and maybe donating a few thousand euros to pay for the plastic. Then issue a huge press release emphasizing how the 3d printed valves are not as durable as the ones the company manufactures but there aren’t enough. Best efforts to produce more. Look at how generous and helpful the company is to get the subpar copies of the valve for this emergency. Helping save lives! Etc. Etc.

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All good ideas, but counting on corporate lawyers of all people to do any of those things in a timely manner is wishful thinking.

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Threatening to sue is ridiculous. But, this is likely the reason. It’s more of a liability and guarantee of function. It’s the same reason the part costs so much vs what it costs to actually produce it. The normal price isn’t paying for just the part. It’s paying for all of the QA and guarantees surrounding it. That it will actually work, not fail, and provide life saving functions. That testing and guarantees cost significantly more than the actual manufacturing cost.

Which also points out, in a triage situation, we’re willing to abandon all those extra guarantees and take chances. Since the alternative failure is worse. Every one used is still a gamble though.

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Jury-rig or jerry-built. In this case, it would be jury-rig.

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It’s a thing in the US. A patent holder wouldn’t lose the patent but they would be barred from collecting damages on that infringement and possibly other infringements.
Here is an article with a decent summary of estoppel and laches issues when a patent holder fails to pursue infringement. https://www.ipwatchdog.com/2010/05/27/the-risk-of-sleeping-on-your-patent-rights/id=10777/
No idea if Italy works the same way.

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This is true. And it may be completely outside the mindset of a corporate lawyer. Hammers and nails, etc.

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They’re not going to want to be anywhere near it.

They shouldn’t do anything to prevent the use. That’s just mean and unhelpful.

But, they’ll definitely want to make clear that they cannot guarantee the machine works to the original specs and performance with the random part.

When we have the luxury of getting parts and machines that are certified for life saving function instead of whatever random cheap thing, we should do that. But, when that’s not an option and the alternative is death, the random cheap alternative without those guarantees becomes acceptable. Since even if/when if fails at some rate, it’ll still be better than having done nothing.

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Hence the IANAL qualifier. My prejudice is always on the side of “lets keep people alive and work out the details later.”

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One hopes that this will prompt governments to step in with the kinds of measures you describe. Perhaps an escrow account for critical medical IP that’s only released on a per-item basis in emergency situations to authorised end-users (e.g. hospitals, physicians, pharmacists, with no liability for the patent holder).

It will only occur through co-ordinated effort and co-operation by international public health agencies. For-profit corporations will not do it on their own, or do it in a way that renders it useless in a crisis

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