' Lisa Koo | MTTLR

Waive or enforce? The Debate over Intellectual Property Issues in Covid-19 Vaccines

In December of 2020, the long-awaited coronavirus vaccines began to slowly roll out across the world. The vaccines give people some hope of taming the virus, but the logistical hurdles of the vaccines seem worrisome. The daunting task of manufacturing, delivering, and administering massive quantities of vaccines on a global scale has highlighted many intellectual property issues in the drug industry. Recently, there has been a contentious debate, with the central issue concerning how intellectual property rules will influence the availability of the Covid-19 vaccines. At the meeting of the World Trade Organization in October, South Africa, India, and many other developing countries, proposed that intellectual property rules’ application to the vaccines be waived. Specifically, the basic position of these countries is that the exceptional circumstances created by the pandemic should warrant the “exemption of member countries from enforcing some patent, trade secrets or pharmaceutical monopolies” under the organization’s trade-related intellectual property agreements. This would allow drug companies in developing countries to manufacture generic versions of the Covid vaccines. The wealthier countries, namely – the United States, the European Union, Britain, Norway, Switzerland, Japan, Canada, Australia and Brazil – opposed the proposal by suggesting that doing so would upend the “incentives for innovation and competition.” This disagreement raises a big question: will the waiver subvert the purposes of the intellectual property laws by disincentivizing innovation or will it lead to a win-win situation for all by massively increasing access to and affordability of the Covid vaccines while allowing investors and the pharmaceutical industry to get a sufficient return on the research investment? As part of coming up with a...