[Ip-health] FT: Pandemic reopens wounds on IP rights

Thiru Balasubramaniam thiru at keionline.org
Thu Jun 18 23:56:34 PDT 2020


Intellectual property
Pandemic reopens wounds on IP rights
The ethics of pharmaceutical monopolies are under scrutiny


The race to develop vaccines and treatments for Covid-19 has been described
by many world leaders as the greatest challenge of our lifetimes.

But the coronavirus pandemic has reignited a longstanding debate about
intellectual property protection and wider public access to medicines, as
well as whether some protections should be temporarily overridden to deal
with a global pandemic.

IP and patent law allows pharmaceutical companies to protect their
investment and reap the benefits of fortunes spent in developing new
products. It can take a decade or more for a drug to be developed and come
to market so being able to enforce legal rights is crucial.

Many lawyers argue that the robust IP regime has always fostered innovation
and that is why countries can collaborate. Pharmaceutical companies say
they intend to co-operate with rivals in an unprecedented way to help find
solutions. Companies like GlaxoSmithKline have already said they do not
expect to profit from collaborations for Covid-19 vaccines during this


But some would like companies to go much further. Governments such as
Chile, Israel and Ecuador have already signalled that the coronavirus
pandemic justifies the use of compulsory licensing over patents related to
coronavirus technologies. Such actions enable governments to license the
use of a patented invention to a third party or government agency without
the consent of the patent holder.

A group of IP lawyers and scientists have also launched the Open Covid
Pledge urging companies to make IP that is relevant to Covid-19 free of
charge until the pandemic is over. Companies that have signed up to the
pledge include IBM, Amazon and Intel, according to its website.

The World Health Organization, supported by more than 30 countries
including Norway, Brazil and Costa Rica, has launched a voluntary Covid-19
Technology Access Pool, or C-TAP, aimed at sharing research on coronavirus
and making vaccines and tests universally available.

However, so far the initiative has failed to win the support of many
western governments and pharmaceutical companies, which point to other
existing initiatives with which they are involved.

At a recent briefing hosted by the International Federation of
Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations, Pascal Soriot, chief
executive of AstraZeneca, said: “If you don’t protect IP then essentially
there is no incentive for anyone to innovate.” But he added: “What is
important is that companies volunteer to provide their products at no
profit, like we are doing, in case of pandemic or crisis when it’s needed.”

Ellen ‘t Hoen, director of research group Medicines Law & Policy, says the
IP monopoly model has benefited drug companies in the past but is not the
way forward for the solutions needed to combat coronavirus.

She adds that governments and aid bodies are spending billions of dollars
on research and development but there are often no demands that this money
should have strings attached. “The finance for the innovation here has been
given upfront . . . There is no need to make a profit from Covid-19 as
development here has been paid for by public money.”

Enrico Bonadio, a reader in intellectual property law at City University in
London, agrees: “I am a big fan of IP, which is necessary, but this
situation is unprecedented,” he says. “It is not normal times . . . And is
not even a situation like HIV . . . this is an unprecedented circumstance
which [could] allow one company to get a patent for a vaccine [that would]
be unfair and unethical — but might not be illegal.”

He points to actions governments have taken to prompt the temporary
relaxation of patents to help fight the pandemic — such as Israel which
earlier this year issued a compulsory patent licence related to antiviral
HIV medicine Kaletra, which is being tested for effectiveness in the
treatment of Covid-19. After this intervention, Kaletra’s manufacturer
AbbVie said it will not enforce its rights anywhere in the world. Gilead
Sciences applied for “orphan drug” designation to US regulators for its
Remdesivir antiviral drug as a potential coronavirus treatment — but backed
down after public criticism.


Thiru Balasubramaniam
Geneva Representative
Knowledge Ecology International
41 22 791 6727
thiru at keionline.org

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