By Cynthia M. Ho
The leaked compromise regarding a “waiver” of international intellectual property (IP) obligations under the TRIPS Agreement for World Trade Organization (WTO) members has met harsh criticism as a shadow of the original proposal to waive international obligations regarding patent, trade secret, and copyright obligations relating to any COVID vaccine, treatment, diagnostic, or personal protective equipment (PPE).
The compromise excludes diagnostics, treatments, and PPE. It only narrowly modifies compulsory licenses of patents covering COVID vaccines. Moreover, it imposes additional restrictions on use of compulsory licenses. But still, multinational pharmaceutical manufacturers have protested even these modest changes from the status quo, arguing that there is no IP problem that needs to be fixed.
Clearly there is a problem. It has taken 18 months since the original Indian and South African proposal to get to this limited compromise, while gross vaccine inequity between wealthy and poor countries continues. In addition, the leaked compromise between four WTO members is still being debated — and even if agreement can be reached, it needs agreement of over 100 other WTO members. We need a new approach.