Covid-19 Vaccine Waiver through TRIPS Council of WTO
TRIPS Council of the World Trade Organization (WTO) will soon be discussing the waiver for the manufacture of Covid-19 vaccines. The TRIPS agreement deals with various protections, which are given to intellectual property rights.
The TRIPS waiver is important given that the entire world is in the grips of the Covid-19 pandemic. Recently 62 co-sponsor countries including South Africa, India, and Indonesia have given a revised draft proposal to the TRIPS council of WTO. Through the proposal, the countries wish to seek a patent waiver for the manufacturing of various Covid-19 medical products, which include vaccines as well.
TRIPS is a multilateral agreement on the Trade-Related Aspect of Intellectual Property Rights. It is one of the 20 odd agreements, which came into effect on 1 January 1995 with the creation of the WTO. The agreement was specifically devised for intellectual property rights. To name a few intellectual property rights, patents are the foremost amongst them, and then there are copyrights, trademarks, industrial design, and circuits, etc. Various things can be termed as intellectual property with procedures to be followed and protection to be given by the national government extremely important. The protection is to be given by the national government. A balance needs to be struck between the intellectual property rights holder and the public at larger. The holder can be anyone, one who has created the intellectual property or the one who has the right to exploit it.
As far as patents are concerned, in India, there is a Patents Act that deals with patents and the way patents are given in India. Then there is this huge issue of compulsory licenses, which is also part of the Patent act. The TRIPS agreement, particularly Article 31 also provides for compulsory licenses in the case of national emergency and public health uses, etc. Briefly, all the nations party to the TRIPS agreement need to formulate laws in conformity with the TRIPS agreement. This explains the importance of the TRIPS agreement and the overall role of the TRIPS council and WTO.
India has seen a huge second wave of covid-19 and seen a demand for treatment reaching heights.
According to the proposal, the moment you have something that is of value to Covid-19 the TRIPS agreement comes in. Something that is of value includes solution on treatment or vaccination or perhaps diagnostic or even trade secrets on chemicals that go into making that diagnostic. The waiver lifts these intellectual property rights barriers and allows countries to manufacture or regionally manufacture to address the covid situation. India is crucial to the whole debate because India is such a major supplier of vaccines in this.
It has been almost eight months since October when the first proposal for the waiver was made and now this revised proposal. It seems there is a lengthy process for going through with the waiver. During India’s massive second wave the United States expressed that it was open to tax-based negotiations. This was seen as a positive move by the US and it is yet to be seen which direction the negations go.