Many critical issues related to Intellectual property regime has been raised after Covid pandemic along with demand for liberalisation of public health related goods and services. Discuss.
After COVID, different nations, non-state groups and citizens have sought affordable access to patented vaccines and medicines developed to treat COVID. These nations include South American Countries, India, South Africa, etc.
Issues raised regarding Intellectual Property Rights (IPR):
- These drugs are often patented for 20 years or more.
- Thus no other manufacturer can produce them, and they are often unaffordable for the common man
- Patent evergreening also occurs. The period of patent rights is extended by making superficial changes to drug/vaccine design.
- There is considerable vaccine inequity, e.g. many African nations have not yet vaccinated 50% of population. European nations have begun giving booster doses.
Thus there is a demand to utilize tools like:
- Patent waiver for COVID vaccines – India sought this, so vaccines could be mass produced, to meet needs of all nations.
- Patent pooling – Two or more companies pool their patent rights. These are sold to other producers in return for royalty. Access to necessary medicines will rise.
- Compulsory Licensing – Indian government can order patent holder to provide production rights to another company, in exchange for royalty.
- Voluntary Licensing – Patent holder itself authorizes other companies to produce vaccine/drug.
The above measures can discourage innovation by the patent holders. There is a need to balance the risks with benefits, while dealing with IPR regime underpinning these pubic health goods.