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Patent Waiver For COVID Patents: Pros and Cons

Actualizado: 20 oct 2021

#patents


General media is recently running many stories regarding COVID vaccine patents and the possibility of waiving IP rights to make them more accesible. This initiative has publicly been supported by Joe Biden, President of the United States, while the European Union firmly opposes.


The rationale behind patent rights is that by giving their holders a temporary monopoly research and innovation are encouraged. We can consider that the speed with which many private companies have come to obtain the vaccine against COVID is a success precisely of this system. Critics, however, point out that pharmaceutical companies have benefited from significant financial aid from governments to carry out this task.


The World Trade Organization (WTO) provides a legal instrument that allows the waiver of patent rights in cases of health emergency. This mechanism was initially requested by South Africa and India, and it's quickly gaining momentum. However, this suspension will unlikely succeed since it requires the consensus of all WTO members, and there is already evidence of opposition from European countries.


Although the suspension of patent rights is gaining popularity, the reality is that patents do not appear to be the main barrier to the distribution of vaccines. There are other purely organizational issues that are of vital importance, such as the shortage of raw materials or production capacity. To this it must be added that the know-how acquired by pharmaceutical companies is not contained in patents, and they could refuse to share this information even in the presence of a patent waiver.