COVID-19 Update

TikTok, Parkinson’s Disease and a good-news story of Collaborative Innovation

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A story of design innovation and ingenuity emerging from the video sharing app TikTok™ should not be as surprising as it first appears. Jimmy Choi, an American marathon runner and Ninja Warrior competitor, posted a video to social media site TikTok™ in late December 2020. Choi was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2003 and demonstrated to his over 150,000 TikTok followers his difficulty removing a single small pill from his medication bottle.

The video, captioned ‘hey pharma companies, get a clue!’, has since been viewed over 650 thousand times, including by videographer Brian Alldridge. Alldridge took matters into his own hands, designing an alternate pill bottle. The design process took two days, Alldridge told science blog Freethink, including teaching himself to use computer aided design software.

Without a 3D printer, Alldridge was reliant on the TikTok™ community to source machines to test his design. Thousands of users volunteered to print the bottle prototype overnight. Several community members test printed versions of the bottle, sharing their amendments and improvements in videos. Engineer David Exler printed several versions of the bottle, sending them to Choi to test and provide feedback.

Alldridge credits TikTok™ as a platform with the viral success of the project, telling Freethink “the way that the app prioritizes content that people engage with on a per-view basis allows for all ideas to be considered by the user’s peers on the app, rather than a situation where highly subscribed creators dominate the main space regardless of interest.” The algorithmic nature of content recommendation on TikTok™ meant users interested in design and 3D printing were shown Alldridge’s video, landing the call out for help in front of the perfect audience.

Alldridge is also ensuring that the relevant pill bottle design printing files are accessible to all.  He plans to meet with large-scale manufacturers to see how cheaply the product can be made. This kind of collaborative innovation and design process is facilitated by social media platforms like TikTok™ and forums like Thingiverse™, where the pill bottle’s design files are freely accessible.  Crowd sourcing solutions to problems like Choi’s leads to faster answers and gives communities agency to innovate. The collaboration required to achieve important scientific breakthroughs arguably require a non-exclusive approach to intellectual property.

Advances made towards the COVID-19 vaccine similarly reveal the importance of patent pooling, with many advocating for intellectual property sharing, rather than traditional single IP holders licensing to manufacturers. Of course, it should be noted that the development model exemplified above would create difficulties in terms of obtaining any future patent protection, since the innovation in question was disclosed publicly prior to filing any patent application. Nevertheless, this example shows the power of developing technologies in freely sharing ideas and in freely collaborating in the development of concepts.

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