Context:

  • The United States will support an initiative at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) to waive Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) protection for COVID-19 vaccines.
  • The news will support the increased production of vaccines globally as countries, including India, continue to reel under the impact of the pandemic.
  • The initiative was first floated by India and South Africa in 2020 and since then, the proposal has received support of more than 120 countries.

Relevance:

GS-III: Science and Technology (Intellectual Property Rights (IPR), GS-II: International Relations, Social Justice

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. What are Intellectual property rights (IPR)?
  2. About the U.S. decision to waive IPR on vaccines
  3. Benefits of waiving off IPR over drugs
  4. Arguments against the Waiver of IPR on vaccines

What are Intellectual property rights (IPR)?

  • Intellectual property rights (IPR) are the rights given to persons over the creations of their minds: inventions, literary and artistic works, and symbols, names and images used in commerce. They usually give the creator an exclusive right over the use of his/her creation for a certain period of time.
  • These rights are outlined in Article 27 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which provides for the right to benefit from the protection of moral and material interests resulting from authorship of scientific, literary or artistic productions.
  • The importance of intellectual property was first recognized in the Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property (1883) and the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works (1886). Both treaties are administered by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO).

Intellectual property rights are customarily divided into two main areas:

  1. Copyright and rights related to copyright:
    • The rights of authors of literary and artistic works (such as books and other writings, musical compositions, paintings, sculpture, computer programs and films) are protected by copyright, for a minimum period of 50 years after the death of the author.
  2. Industrial property:
    • Industrial property can be divided into two main areas:
    1. Protection of distinctive signs: In particular trademarks and geographical indications.
      • Trademarks distinguish the goods or services of one undertaking from those of other undertakings.
      • Geographical Indications (GIs) identify a good as originating in a place where a given characteristic of the good is essentially attributable to its geographical origin.
      • The protection of such distinctive signs aims to stimulate and ensure fair competition and to protect consumers, by enabling them to make informed choices between various goods and services.
      • The protection may last indefinitely, provided the sign in question continues to be distinctive.
    2. Industrial designs and trade secrets: Other types of industrial property are protected primarily to stimulate innovation, design and the creation of technology. In this category fall inventions (protected by patents), industrial designs and trade secrets.

About the U.S. decision to waive IPR on vaccines

  • The 1995 agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) requires ratifying countries to adopt a minimum standard of intellectual property rights to protect creators and promote innovation.
  • India and South Africa have proposed a waiver from the implementation and application of certain provisions of the TRIPS Agreement (waiving IP rights like patents, copyright, and trademarks) for prevention, containment or treatment of Covid-19.
  • If the waiver is granted, WTO member countries will not be under an obligation, for a temporary period, to either grant or enforce patents and other IP-related rights to Covid-19 drugs, vaccines, and other treatments.
  • This will immunise the measures adopted by countries to vaccinate their populations from claims of illegality under WTO law.

Benefits of waiving off IPR over drugs

  1. At present, only drug companies which own patents are authorised to manufacture Covid vaccines. A lifting of patents will allow the formula to be shared with other companies.
  2. Once the formula is shared, any company which possesses the required technology and infrastructure can produce vaccines. This will lead to cheaper and more generic versions of Covid vaccines and will be a big step in overcoming vaccine shortage.
  3. There is a glaring gap between developing and wealthier countries now. The countries having surplus doses of vaccines have already vaccinated a considerable percentage of their population and are returning to normalcy. Whereas, the poorer nations continue to face shortages, have overburdened healthcare systems and hundreds dying daily. Thus, there is a need to bring about a change in this regard which will be possible by the waiving off of IPR. The longer Covid circulates in developing nations, there is a greater chance of more vaccine-resistant, deadly mutations of the virus emerging.

Arguments against the Waiver of IPR on vaccines

  1. Lifting of patents would be a compromise on control of safety and quality standards for vaccine manufacturing.
  2. Lifting of patents would be a huge deterrent to investing heavily on vaccine development during pandemics in the future.
  3. Eliminating those protections would undermine the global response to the pandemic, including ongoing effort to tackle new variants. It will create confusion that could potentially undermine public confidence in vaccine safety, and create a barrier to information sharing.

-Source: The Hindu

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