India, South Africa seek waiver in global IPR laws for easy access to medical products

Covid drugs: India, South Africa seek waiver of IPR, patents


•India, South Africa propose waiver in TRIPS for easy access to medical prods
•Waivers sought in patents, copyright, industrial design implementation
•Move crucial for unimpeded access to vaccines to combat Covid-19
•Pact allows special compulsory license for export, not for domestic consumption
•Provision is a concern for countries with insufficient manufacturing capacity
•Proposal cites tough, lengthy process for import, export of pharma product
New Delhi: Amid the coronavirus pandemic, India and South Africa on Friday proposed a waiver from certain provisions of the global intellectual property rights (IPR) agreement to prevent, contain and treat Covid-19 through unimpeded and timely access to affordable medical products including diagnostic kits, vaccines, medicines, personal protective equipment and ventilators.

In the joint proposal, they sought a waiver from obligations of members to implement or apply provisions related to copyright or related acts, industrial designs, patents and protection of Undisclosed Information in the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS Agreement). They also pushed for exemption from a clause that provides the legal basis for WTO members to grant special compulsory licences exclusively for the production and export of affordable generic medicines to other members that cannot domestically produce the needed medicines in sufficient quantities for their patients.

“A particular concern for countries with insufficient or no manufacturing capacity are the requirements and consequently the cumbersome and lengthy process for the import and export of pharmaceutical products,” they said in a joint proposal made to the World Trade Organization (WTO) on October 2.

Citing reports of IPRs hindering timely provisioning of affordable medical products to the patients, they highlighted that certain members are amending their national patent laws to expedite the process of issuing compulsory or government use licenses.

India and Africa said it is important for WTO members to work together to ensure that IPRs such as patents, industrial designs, copyright and protection of undisclosed information do not create barriers to the timely access to affordable medical products including vaccines and medicines or to scaling-up of research, development, manufacturing and supply of medical products essential to combat Covid-19.

Officials said the existing provisions in TRIPS are complex and allow countries to issue Compulsory License only to pharmaceuticals but does not cover medical devices like ventilators.

“Our proposal goes beyond medicines to include medical devices to facilitate proper combatting of the pandemic. It is a big step to counter the vaccine nationalism that we are seeing,” said an official.

As on October 1, there were about 34 million confirmed cases globally with above one million confirmed deaths.

“Beyond patents, other IPRs may also pose a barrier, with limited options to overcome those barriers,” India and South Africa said, adding that many countries especially developing countries may face institutional and legal difficulties when using flexibilities available in the TRIPS Agreement.

They said the waiver should continue until widespread vaccination is in place globally, and the majority of the world's population has developed immunity.
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