The United States will support an initiative at the World Trade Organization (WTO) to waive Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) protection for COVID-19 vaccines, the Biden administration confirmed.
The move 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 last October.
TRIPS, which came into effect in January 1995, is an international legal agreement between all the member nations of the WTO. It establishes minimum standards for the regulation of different forms of intellectual property (IP) among WTO member nations. It covers copyrights, trademarks, geographical indications, industrial designs, patents, layout designs for integrated circuits and trade secrets.
If granted, the waiver could mean a global sharing of technology and know-how to ensure rapid responses for the handling of COVID-19 on a real time basis without violating the international patents laws.
“The administration believes strongly in intellectual property protections, but in service of ending this pandemic, supports the waiver of those protections for COVID-19 vaccines,” United States Trade Representative Katherine Tai announced, adding that the “extraordinary circumstances” called for “extraordinary measures.”
Ms. Tai also said that the negotiations to effect the IP waiver would take time. “We will actively participate in text-based negotiations at the World Trade Organization (WTO) needed to make that happen. Those negotiations will take time given the consensus-based nature of the institution and the complexity of the issues involved,” she said.
Earlier, WTO Director General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala held discussions with ambassadors from developed and developing countries to discuss access to COVID-19 vaccines and therapeutics, based on an Indian and South African initiative first launched in October 2020.
Over a 100 countries have supported the proposal and US President Joe Biden has also been under growing pressure, domestically, to support a waiver.
This week Mr. Biden said that the US would produce as many vaccines as possible and export them. At present, three vaccines are approved for use in the US including Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson. The country plans to send 60 million doses of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine to other countries over May and June.