Government agrees to indemnify companies manufacturing ventilators for use by the NHS against IP infringement and product liability


It has been reported in the Financial Times (16 April 2020) that the UK government will shield manufacturers of new Rapidly Manufactured Ventilator Systems (RMVSs) intended to treat coronavirus patients from the financial burden of potential legal claims arising from (1) intellectual property infringement; or (2) personal injury caused by defective ventilators.

The Financial Times reports that:

  • Michael Gove wrote to the Chair of the Public Accounts Committee to disclose two contingent liabilities in relation to the government’s campaign for RMVSs;
  • the first liability is to indemnify third party IP rights for designers and contract manufacturers of the RMVSs; and
  • the second liability indemnifies designers and contract manufacturers against product liability.

This letter, together with a similarly worded one addressed to the Chair of the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, has now been published online, confirming the existence of such an initiative.[1] This will reassure manufacturers eager to supply the NHS with much-needed ventilators as quickly as possible, but concerned about the legal risks associated with entering the medical devices sector, which may be entirely new to them.

The Government has not yet confirmed any of the details of the indemnity or any limits on the indemnity. In particular, it remains unclear whether this will be a blanket indemnity, available on the same terms to all manufacturers of RMVSs, or will instead be subject to individual contract. However, it appears as though the Government has adopted an extraordinary response to extraordinary circumstances.