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COVID-19 differs from other recent public health crises with respect to its sudden onset, its rapid spread, the lack of any known vaccine or cure and resulting shortages of critical medical equipment. The convergence of these factors has prompted both governments and IPR holders around the world to seek ways to increase the availability of IPR necessary to combat the pandemic. Governmental compulsory licensing, IPR pools and voluntary IPR pledges have all been used in the past, though in situations that differ in important respects from the COVID-19 pandemic. Each is designed to result, to a greater or lesser degree, in a publicly-accessible “commons” of rights and technologies that are broadly available for use to support an important public health goals. Here, we compare and contrast these differing approaches to IPR commons formation and assess their suitability to address the COVID-19 crisis.