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WTO to Discuss Member Proposal to Waive IP Rights for COVID-19 Technologies

On October 2, 2020, India and South Africa urged the World Trade Organization (WTO) Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) Council to temporarily waive the obligation of member states under the TRIPS Agreement to protect intellectual property rights for technologies related to the “prevention, containment or treatment” of COVID-19. Kenya, Eswatini, Pakistan, Mozambique, and Bolivia co-sponsor the proposal.

Proponents of the waiver argue that certain TRIPS Agreement provisions aimed at protecting IP rights, such as the allegedly “cumbersome and lengthy process for the import and export of pharmaceutical products,” potentially block access to medical products, such as vaccines. The proposed waiver would affect IP rights including patents, industrial designs, copyrights, and trade secret information. It would remain in effect “until widespread vaccination is in place globally, and the majority of the world’s population has developed immunity.”

Under WTO rules, the TRIPS Council had ninety days, or until December 31, 2020, to consider the proposal before submitting a report to the General Council. On December 10, however, the Council said it would not reach consensus on the proposal by year end and agreed to continue discussions in 2021. An oral status report was submitted to the General Council during its December 16-17 meeting.

On December 18, the General Council ratified the decision reached by the TRIPS Council to continue discussions on the proposal in early 2021. The next formal meeting of the TRIPS Council is scheduled for March 10-11, 2021.

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