The suspension of the Agreement on Trade-related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights would mean in practice that the manufacturing formulas of the different drugs against covid-19 can be freely copied, without the need to compensate the original producers for this.
Patents normally have a validity of 20 years, although it is not necessary for a pharmaceutical company or any other sector to wait that long to be able to negotiate with other firms.
The US support for a suspension of patents on covid vaccines, which has generated hope in the fight against the pandemic but also criticism from the pharmaceutical sector, means the approval of a proposal presented in October by India and South Africa before the World Trade Organization (WTO) .
What would this proposal imply?
The proposal would temporarily suspend, perhaps until the end of the pandemic, the patent rights of these products, which are contemplated in the so-called Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) .
What is TRIPS?
The TRIPS, signed in 1994, is included in the general agreement that the WTO founded in 1995 and its suspension would mean in practice that the manufacturing formulas of the different drugs against covid-19 can be freely copied, without the need to compensate for it. to the original production companies.
How valid are patents?
Patents normally have a validity of 20 years, although it is not necessary for a pharmaceutical company or any other sector to wait that long to be able to negotiate bilateral agreements with other firms so that they can manufacture generic versions, something that was done for example with drugs against HIV-AIDS.
What countries support this proposal?
Since the proposal was presented, it has had the support of the bloc of developing countries, which currently have fewer possibilities of access to anticovid vaccines (only 0.3% of the 1,100 million doses administered on the planet have been inoculated in countries low-income).
In front of it, mostly developed countries have been placed, many of them headquarters of large pharmaceutical companies, such as the US (until yesterday), the EU nations (this Wednesday more open to debate), Switzerland, Japan or Australia, among others.
Brazil was one of the few developing countries that had aligned itself with this second bloc, although in recent months it has relaxed its stance in favor of a liberalization of vaccine production, coinciding with the worsening of the health crisis in the country .
What has the World Trade Organization done?
The Director General of the WTO, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, has tried to unblock months of impasse with several meetings and summits in which she has also invited the pharmaceutical sector, and has declared herself in favor of discussing not only TRIPS but also other formulas that accelerate the production.
What other types of formulas are there?
Among them would be the reduction of obstacles to the export of ingredients for vaccines, since many of them need hundreds to manufacture doses and have had on some occasions to suspend global production due to lack of any of them.
The debate continues
The Indian and South African proposal continues to be debated this week at the WTO, which is holding its General Council, and both delegations indicated hours before Biden’s announcement that they would modify the text of their initiative, presumably to include stricter time limits on the suspension.
The US supports the release of patents on vaccines
The Geneva-based organization often avoids putting its decisions to a vote, preferring to have them adopted by general consensus of its 164 members, which in practice means lengthy discussions and delays in making those decisions.
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Although in principle the WTO was not expected to end the debate and adopt any conclusions on the matter this week, the change in the position of the US could modify the plans, especially if other developed economies join Washington.
Key in this change could be the fact that in many of the opposing countries for months there has been rapid progress in vaccination in recent weeks: in many, a large part of the risk groups have already been immunized and there are that the entire adult population can be vaccinated this summer.