WTO countries should immediately finalise text on patent waiver for COVID-19 treatment: Experts

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May 06, 2021 4:48 PM

With the US backing an initiative by India and South Africa at the World Trade Organization to temporarily waive patent rules on COVID-19 vaccines, experts on Thursday suggested the member countries of the WTO to immediately start negotiations on the text to finalise the proposal as coronavirus infections are increasing.

In October 2020, India and South Africa submitted a proposal suggesting a waiver for all WTO members on the implementation, application and enforcement of certain provisions of the TRIPS agreement in relation to the prevention, containment or treatment of COVID-19.

With the US backing an initiative by India and South Africa at the World Trade Organization to temporarily waive patent rules on COVID-19 vaccines, experts on Thursday suggested the member countries of the WTO to immediately start negotiations on the text to finalise the proposal as coronavirus infections are increasing. In October 2020, India and South Africa submitted a proposal suggesting a waiver for all WTO members on the implementation, application and enforcement of certain provisions of the TRIPS agreement in relation to the prevention, containment or treatment of COVID-19.

The agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights or TRIPS came into effect in January 1995. It is a multilateral agreement on intellectual property (IP) rights such as copyright, industrial designs, patents and protection of undisclosed information or trade secrets. Experts said negotiations in the WTO (World Trade Organization) should be concluded as early as possible because the world needs vaccines and other medical products to contain and treat people from this disease now.

“How long the negotiations will go in the WTO to agree on the text. That will be key, because we need the things right now. “Details of the text will be important as there should not be any conditions, which could make it difficult for developing countries like India and South Africa to manufacture vaccines. Devil lies in the details,” Biswajit Dhar, professor of economics at Jawaharlal Nehru University, said. He added that all the things required to treat and contain COVID-19 should be free from IPR (intellectual property rights) incumbrances.

National Intellectual Property Organisation (NIPO) President T C James said the words in the text would be key and the WTO member countries should soon start the negotiations on that. “Technology is important here, IPR is not that big thing. We need to encourage more competition among pharma companies,” James said.

The Biden administration has backed an initiative by India and South Africa at the WTO to temporarily waive patent rules on COVID-19 vaccines. It is seen as a breakthrough in the global fight against the deadly pandemic by potentially expanding the supply of the vaccines and more affordable doses for less wealthy nations. Announcing the major policy decision after intense internal debate and strong pushback from American drugmakers, US Trade Representative Katherine Tai on Wednesday said this is a global health crisis and the extraordinary circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic call for extraordinary measures.

Dev Robinson, partner and national practice head (IPR) at Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas & Co, said, “Suspension of IPRs (are) only a part of the solution that IPR owners may not assert their rights in certain situations. The other part of it is actual cooperation to effect a transfer of know-how-to manufacture. This is the tricky part.” When asked whether the move will help Indian pharma firms to get technology know-how from global pharma majors to produce the vaccine domestically, he said quality components are key and setting up facilities could take time.

“A hybrid approach appears more plausible to attend to the circumstances of national emergency and extreme urgency,” he added. Jaishil Shah, partner at Deloitte India, said the proposal is approved by the US and it needs approval from other countries as well. “This will ensure affordability and accessibility across developing/under developed countries which in term can help fight this pandemic…

“Definitely, this will help India get technical know-how from other leading organisations. This in turn will help us have a different variety of vaccines and ensure faster reach,” Shah said. He added that the government should engage with other countries to discuss the benefits from this move and ensure support on vaccine requirements across the world.

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