World Trade Organization Considers IP Rights for Covid Vaccines      December 10, 2020

Today, December 10, 2020, the World Trade Organization (WTO) meets in Geneva, Switzerland, to discuss proposals that, if approved, would waive or block some worldwide intellectual property rights regarding Covid 19 vaccines.

In October, India and South Africa raised this IP issue with WTO, arguing that in view of the pandemic, freeing the vaccines from patent protection will make them more readily available for poor countries. Several other countries have signed on to co-sponsor the proposal, including Kenya, Eswatini, Mozambique and Pakistan, and a 100 other low and middle income countries have shown support. The supportors submit that they need this IP waiver to fulfill their obligations to human health and life by providing medical treatments and products to battle Covid 19.  They also urge that intellectual property rights should not be a barrier to human rights obligations to share scientific research.  The proposal implicates the TRIPS Agreement (Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights), and would allow other manufacturers around the world to make and distribute the vaccines.

Opposition comes from more prosperous countries, including the United States, the European Union, Brazil, Canada, Japan, and the United Kingdom, along with their trading partners. Wealthier countries have already bought much of the vaccine supply for 2021.  IP supporters argue that strong rights are necessary to create the incentives to do research and development, and to improve life-saving medical products and procedures. Such R & D is expensive and time consuming, and a difficult challenge which may or may not lead to successful commercial applications.   The patent system provides disclosure of inventions to the public, and encourages continued work and discovery.  Without patent protection, the knowledge may be kept secret and investments decline.  Weakening intellectual property rights may reduce work on Covid solutions, and thus do more harm than good.

Kirk Hartung is Chair of the Mechanical Patent Practice Group at McKee, Voorhees & Sease, PLC. For additional information please visit or contact Kirk directly via email at

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