The European Commission (EU) has finally taken a different route to solve the conumdrum posed by the COVID-19 vaccines from the US, which proposed to temporarily waive the patents for them early last month.
On June 4, 2021, the EU submitted its proposal seeking the commitment of World Trade Organization (WTO) members for a multilateral trade action plan to expand the production of COVID-19 vaccines and treatments, and ensure universal and fair access. With this proposal to the WTO, the EU underlines the WTO's central role in the response to the COVID-19 pandemic and urges fellow WTO members to agree on a set of commitments, including on intellectual property rights.
The EU calls on governments to:
Ensure that COVID-19 vaccines, treatments and their components can cross borders freely;
encourage producers to expand their production, while ensuring that those countries most in need of vaccines receive them at an affordable price, and;
facilitate the use of compulsory licensing within the WTO's existing Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS). The TRIPS Agreement already provides this flexibility, which is a legitimate tool during the pandemic that can be used swiftly where needed
The EU considers that all WTO members should be ready to:
agree that the COVID-19 pandemic is an exceptional circumstance of national emergency, and that the requirement to negotiate with the rights' holder may be legitimately waived where needed;
support manufacturers that are ready to produce vaccines and/or treatments at affordable prices under a compulsory licence so that the level of remuneration paid by the manufacturer to the patent holder reflects such affordable prices;
agree that the compulsory licence could cover any exports destined to countries that lack manufacturing capacity, including via the COVAX facility.
The EU is also tabling a dedicated communication on intellectual property to the WTO body in charge of implementing the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS Council). Here, the EU provides more detail and clarity on each of the three points on intellectual property and links them with the specific provisions in the TRIPS Agreement. As regards the broad waiver proposed by a number of WTO members, the EU, while ready to discuss any option that helps end the pandemic as soon as possible, is not convinced that this would provide the best immediate response to reach the objective of the widest and timely distribution of COVID-19 vaccines that the world urgently needs. The proposals dated June 4 aim at achieving that objective in a swift and effective manner.
@2021 China IP Magazine