Intellectual Property Rights of COVID-19 Vaccines – The National Law Review

Posted on

Four months ago, the U.S. became one of 100 countries supporting the proposal presented a year ago to the World Trade Organization (WTO) by India and South Africa that intellectual property protection for COVID-19 vaccines be temporarily suspended in an effort to allow generic pharmaceutical companies to quickly produce doses. With developed countries consuming much of the available vaccine stock, it’s been no surprise that the world has looked very lopsided with respect to COVID-19 inoculations. The thought was that by suspending IP protections for the vaccines developed by big pharma, drug manufacturers in poorer countries would be able to start churning out vaccines and increase global vaccinations without fear of infringement. But is it really that simple?
Let’s take a quick look at what patents do. At the heart of every patent is a basic quid pro quo. In exchange for limited exclusivity over manufacturing, use and sales of the medicines, inventors invest sometimes billions of dollars into research and development to concoct lifesaving innovations and share them with the rest of the world. In the case of COVID-19 vaccines, this global innovation incentive has brought about effective inoculations in record time. So, it’s no wonder that the WTO proposal, which is a waiver of the obligations under the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), has been met with strong opposition. While opposers to the proposal acknowledge the need to make the vaccine globally available, they argue that IP is only one of many factors affecting the manufacture and exempting the vaccines from patent protection will not miraculously increase vaccine production by generic manufacturers. Unfortunately, the patent waiver doesn’t address larger issues such as: (1) deficiencies in supply chains, (2) the need to secure regulatory approval, (3) the need for large-scale funding to buy new machinery and adapt production to the new technology, and (4) mastering of the formulation of complex compounds (some of which involve mRNA). In other words, if patent rights are ultimately suspended, will generic manufacturers be ready in the wings to immediately start producing doses? Likely not.
The WTO is set to reconvene on this debate in late November but what bears noting in the meantime is that vaccine manufacturers are diligently working to get more shots in arms by increasing capacity to send doses to developing nations. So whatever solution is ultimately handed down, the hope is that the outcome does improve global access and equity of COVID-19 vaccines.
About this Author
Andrea Porterfield considers understanding a client’s business and goals crucial to developing an effective intellectual property strategy and portfolio. She counsels clients in all areas of intellectual property – from patents, trademarks and copyrights to agreements governing confidentiality, licensing, and distribution to opinion work regarding non-infringement, freedom to operate, invalidity, patentability, and overall industry landscape analyses.
Andrea’s patent procurement experience involves preparing and prosecuting domestic and foreign…
As a woman owned company, The National Law Review is a certified member of the Women's Business Enterprise National Council
You are responsible for reading, understanding and agreeing to the National Law Review’s (NLR’s) and the National Law Forum LLC’s  Terms of Use and Privacy Policy before using the National Law Review website. The National Law Review is a free to use, no-log in database of legal and business articles. The content and links on are intended for general information purposes only. Any legal analysis, legislative updates or other content and links should not be construed as legal or professional advice or a substitute for such advice. No attorney-client or confidential relationship is formed by the transmission of information between you and the National Law Review website or any of the law firms, attorneys or other professionals or organizations who include content on the National Law Review website. If you require legal or professional advice, kindly contact an attorney or other suitable professional advisor.  
Some states have laws and ethical rules regarding solicitation and advertisement practices by attorneys and/or other professionals. The National Law Review is not a law firm nor is  intended to be  a referral service for attorneys and/or other professionals. The NLR does not wish, nor does it intend, to solicit the business of anyone or to refer anyone to an attorney or other professional.  NLR does not answer legal questions nor will we refer you to an attorney or other professional if you request such information from us. 
Under certain state laws the following statements may be required on this website and we have included them in order to be in full compliance with these rules. The choice of a lawyer or other professional is an important decision and should not be based solely upon advertisements. Attorney Advertising Notice: Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome. Statement in compliance with Texas Rules of Professional Conduct. Unless otherwise noted, attorneys are not certified by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, nor can NLR attest to the accuracy of any notation of Legal Specialization or other Professional Credentials.
The National Law Review – National Law Forum LLC 4700 Gilbert Ave. Suite 47 #230 Western Springs, IL 60558  Telephone  (708) 357-3317 or toll free (877) 357-3317.  If you would ike to contact us via email please click here.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.