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ΑρχικήEnglish EditionOn the removal of the vaccine patent: How Volvo did what pharmaceuticals...

On the removal of the vaccine patent: How Volvo did what pharmaceuticals refuse to 60 years ago

By Nina Chatzistergiou,

Pharmaceutical companies do not agree with the release of the vaccine patent, but Volvo had done something similar about 60 years earlier.

Recently, following the occasion of Joe Biden’s statement, there has been a great debate about whether or not pharmaceutical companies should release vaccine patents in order to make them accessible in large quantities for countries that are facing a big problem. A typical example is India, while African countries are in a similar situation, with cases and deaths rising considerably.

Under normal circumstances, the request of the American President would be accepted by the whole world, but such a thing, does not apply in this case. Large amount of money has been spent on research conducted in the previous period, while even more has been predicted for the profits that will follow.

Leaders of powerful countries, such as Emmanuel Macron of France, sided with Joe Biden, but there is also an opposite side, which is exclusively concerned with numbers, with the typical example of Angela Merkel’s refusal.

It is indicative that even the discussion that is taking place these days, has caused the fall of the Pfizer’s shares, as the concern grows that the forecast for the profits that will derive from the pandemic. Those who have supported in the past, or still support, the refusal of pharmaceutical companies, use this economic part as an argument, that if they are forced to publish the patent, it will discourage future research into similar problems.

The three-point seat belt’s inventor, Nils Bohlin. (Source: The New Economy)

However, there is an example from the past that does not support this case. It shows that when human life enters the equation, it takes precedence. And that is the case of Volvo and the car seat belt.

The story was brought up, about two years ago by Douglas Bell at Forbes, with a text entitled “Volvo’s gift to the world“. Modern belts have saved millions of lives and began with the Swedish company’s claim “Few people have saved as many lives as Nils Bohlin”. This is not far from reality if we consider that this particular engineer was the man who discovered the three-point seat belt back in 1959.

Volvo’s president at the time was Gunnar Engellau, who had lost a close relative in a car accident due to a lack of design in the two-point belt used by some cars at the time. This loss led him to find something better for the safety of those getting into Volvo cars. So he ended up with Bohlin, who he took from his rival Saab and assigned him this project.

It took hundreds of tests, but also an analysis of thousands of accidents in the 50s and 60s, before the Swedes were persuaded to use the new type of belt. From 25% in 1965, the percentage of people who used the new belt, jumped to 90% in ten years.

It is a common tactic of Volvo, but also of most companies, to secure their patent in order to have a lead and advantage over their competitors, aiming for greater profits.

However, seat belts were something different. The company gave the patent to its competitors to encourage people to use seat belts, saving millions of lives that would have been lost either by the existing security gaps in previous models, or by not using it.

  • Bell, D., Volvo’s Gift To The World, Modern Seat Belts Have Saved Millions Of Lives, Forbes, Available here



Nina Chatzistergiou
Born and raised in Athens, she holds a degree of International and European Studies from the University of Piraeus. She is half Greek half Serbian and bilingual. I'm also fluent in English. She likes to be constantly learning new things and exploring how people can make every day count, all the while taking the guilt off the things that they really want in life. She is also intrigued by women's empowerment, as well as alternative ways people can approach situations affecting their mentality and their confidence, in a healthy way that makes their lives better.