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Author
Olga Dolgikh

Head of Department / Patent Attorney/ Mechanics Engineer

04 October 2021

Suspension of patenting coronavirus vaccines. “Pros” and “Cons”

During more than a year and a half, the world community has been confronting the spread of the coronavirus infection COVID-19, which entails huge human losses. In this regard, various measures are undertaken to prevent the spread of the infection. Some of the measures can be called extreme, but this is not surprising, taken into account the current situation both in individual countries and worldwide. Such measures include the appeal of the World Health Organization (WHO) to all states to suspend the patent protection of coronavirus vaccines. This will allow increasing the manufacture of the vaccines worldwide, and, consequently, this will reduce significantly the morbidity rate, since the vaccine provides the vaccinated with protection, prevents the severe course of the disease, the risk of hospitalization and the death by coronavirus. Currently, several vaccines have been invented, but it is not so easy for many developing countries to get them. Let us gain insight further on all pros and cons regarding the cancellation of patents for the coronavirus vaccines.


For the first time, the idea of removing the patent protection from the coronavirus vaccines was spoken out by the Republic of South Africa and India as far back as October 2020, and many developing countries supported this idea. Russia also supported the idea of removing the patent protection from the coronavirus vaccines. “There is an idea in Europe that, in my opinion, deserves attention, namely, to remove the patent protection from the COVID-19 vaccines at all. Of course, Russia would support such an approach,” Vladimir Putin said during a meeting with Deputy Prime Minister of the Russian Federation Tatyana Golikova via video conference. He noted that in the modern conditions it was necessary to think not of extracting maximum profit, but of ensuring people security. “The security can be ensured only if the vaccines are used in the vast majority of the countries worldwide. In this case, population immunity in the broadest sense of this word will be developed.” The Head of the Russian Federation said that Russia was the only country in the world that was ready to transfer the technology for the manufacture of the coronavirus vaccines to other countries and was doing so.


America spoke out against the removal of the patent protection, however in early May 2021 it changed its decision stating that “the extraordinary circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic require undertaking emergency measures. The Administration has a strong belief in intellectual property protection, but for the purposes of terminating this pandemic, it supports the abandonment of this protection for the sake of the COVID-19 vaccines. The goal of the Administration is to deliver as many safe and effective vaccines to as many people as possible as quickly as possible.” At the time of making public that decision, the USA had managed to provide its population with a sufficient amount of the drug for COVID-19 vaccination. The WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus welcomed the USA statement and called upon other countries to follow that example, saying that “The current pandemic is an unprecedented crisis that requires unprecedented actions.” After Joseph Biden’s unexpected decision in support of the removal of the patent protection, some countries, including the countries with the developed pharmaceutical industry, which previously had met that idea coolly, began to hint that they were ready to make concessions. And only Germany opposed it. Chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel criticized the idea of abandoning the patents for the COVID-19 vaccines. According to her, the suspension of the patents will not solve the problem of the vaccine shortage: granting licenses can ensure the quality of products. Merkel is also convinced that the countries are in need of “the ingenuity and innovative potential of companies.” 


Pharmaceutical companies are also opposed for obvious reasons. They are used to the patent protection; they invent and sell medicines, so they are not ready even for a while to lose the patent protection and, consequently, money. Their plans to make money on the patent-protected vaccines are now under great doubt, and their shares on stock exchanges collapsed after the unexpected statement of the White House. “Such a turn of the established American policy will not save people,” - the Association of Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America PhRMA replied to the Biden Administration. - “This empty promise will not eliminate the main obstacles to vaccination, first of all, the shortage of raw materials for the manufacture of the vaccines and the difficulties in organizing a vaccination campaign locally.” The International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations (IFPMA) spoke out with the same spirit, calling the USA position to be a disappointing and erroneous attempt to find a simple solution of a complex problem. The pharmacists are afraid not only that other companies will manufacture the vaccines according to their formulas, but also that they themselves will have nothing to sell, since the current component shortage will only increase due to the increase in the number of the companies manufacturing these vaccines.


The majority of the countries being the World Trade Organization (WTO) members understand that the temporary suspension of the intellectual property rights for the vaccines will allow the countries that do not have their own developments, but that have industrial potential, to start manufacturing the vaccines, and the poor countries will get access to the vaccine. But, despite this fact, the WTO failed to agree on the suspension of the intellectual property rights for the coronavirus vaccines at the General Council Meeting held in Geneva on July 27, 2021. As the official representative of the organization, Keith Rockwell, told the reporters based on the results of the meeting, the next attempt would be undertaken at an informal meeting in September, and an official discussion on this topic would be held on October 13-14.


And until the agreement between the WTO on this issue is reached, the WHO offers for “the funding organizations and industry to grant voluntarily and transparently non-exclusive licenses for the patents, to transfer know-how and the data through the Pool of available technologies to combat COVID-19.”


As to the time frame of achieving the agreement with the WTO, everything is quite vague here, and if under a normal situation it would take several years for all 164 members of the WTO to come to agree, then the pandemic and the USA decision will be able to reduce this period, only not to weeks, but to months.


Tags regarding this article: “New technologies,” “The practical application of intellectual property,” “The interesting facts about intellectual property.”


A thesis to the article: During more than a year and a half, the world community has been confronting the spread of the coronavirus infection COVID-19, which entails huge human losses. In this regard, various measures are undertaken to prevent the spread of the infection, including the appeal of the World Health Organization (WHO) to all states to suspend the patent protection of the coronavirus vaccines, which will allow increasing the manufacture of the vaccines worldwide, and, consequently, this will reduce significantly the morbidity rate.


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