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Bioengineering Blog: Patents for Pandemics

Bioengineering Blog: Patents for Pandemics

Inventors have been thinking about how to find and control contagious diseases.
The coronavirus pandemic seemed to catch the world by surprise, but for some inventors, epidemics have been a prime concern. A quick review of patents filed over the past decade shows how the problems we face today were anticipated, along with descriptions of proposed solutions.

For instance, in Patent No. 8,881,040 (November 4, 2014), Georgetown University explains that, due to international travel, diseases travel faster than ever before. With funding from the Intelligence Technology Innovation Center and the Department of Homeland Security, Peter Li and Georgetown developed and patented the Argus Watchboard: a global biological event detection and tracking capability that provides early warning of biological events and estimations of the probabilities of such events escalating. 

To learn more: ASME COVID-19 Response

“The present invention relies on monitoring social disruption through native language reports and electronic local sources around the globe, because local societies are highly sensitive to perceive the emergence of biological threats,” the patent filing states, “and the resulting conditions and responses are readily identifiable through a granular review of local sources of information using the present system and method.” 

Many diseases, as we know, begin in animals and then spread to humans. IBM Patent No. 10,362,769 (July 30, 2019) proposes a high-tech system which monitors animal movement and sounds as well as their water sources to better detect a disease breakout.

EMC Corporation’s “Method and System for Global Epidemic Disease Outbreak Prediction” described in Patent No. 10,366,791 (July 30, 2019) employs some heavy math to look for a possible new disease, “calculating the respective correlation value for each outbreak attribute pair amongst a set of outbreak attributes for a data set regarding a disease and assigning a weight value for each outbreak attribute according to the correlation values.”

Other inventors looked at critical points after the disease has broken out. According to Battelle’s Patent No. 10,332,637 (June 25, 2019), the active surveillance system for influenza implemented by the Centers for Disease Control provides a clear picture of the emergence and development of an influenza epidemic, “but its reports lag the actual changes in influenza incidents by about a week.” The lag is due to a dependence on patients visiting their doctors, which may occur days after symptoms first appear.

Battelle’s proposed solution is a web-based “symptom checker for producing a structured data set, a data analysis component for producing a multivariate data set from the structured data set, a principal component analysis component for producing a linear combination of orthogonal symbols representative of a disease or disorder, and a multivariate statistical model for predicting the incidents of disease or disorder using the symbols constructed from the principal component analysis.”

Once a disease is spreading through a community, inventions can cut the chain of transmission or ameliorate the impact. For instance, Boeing Patent No. 8,936,944 (January 20, 2015) details the use of cameras, air samplers, and other sensors together with an “analyzer system” to determine whether a contagious person is present in a “zone”—such as an airport gate waiting area—and automatically identify that person.

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Hill-Rom Services, Inc. has 10 patents for its “hygiene monitoring system” including No. 9,911,312 (March 6, 2018). Basically, sensors mounted next to the sink and electronic badges worn by caregivers determine whether a particular caregiver has washed their hands sufficiently based on places in the hospital the caregiver has visited, the interval between hand washes, and the length of time spent hand washing. The caregiver’s badge indicates the caregiver’s level of compliance with the system. Jeffrey Clawson of Salt Lake City won Patent No. 8,712,020 (April 29, 2014) directed to 911 dispatchers and how they can better process “emergency calls involving a patient manifesting symptoms of a pandemic illness.”

The devastating impact of the current pandemic will no doubt spur more inventors to action, though they may be drawn less to disease prevention and control than better video communications and home delivery solutions. 
Kirk Teska is the managing partner of Iandiorio, Teska, and Coleman, LLP, an adjunct professor at Suffolk Law, and the author of two books: Patent Savvy for Managers (NOLO) and Patent Project Management (ASME Press).

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