Political pressure is building, both within the US and within other industrialized nations, for emergency actions that could deprive for-profit companies of their property rights to vaccines or treatments for Covid-19. It is an attractive idea, especially as the crematoria of India struggle to keep up with the pandemic-related deaths there. But patent waiver has its difficulties.
U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai said that the US will participate in negotiations at the World Trade Organizations that may lead to a waiver. She also warned, though, that negotiations “will take time given the consensus-based nature of the institution.”
That statement marks an important shift in U.S. trade policy, which has for years under Presidents of both parties sided with the enforcement of patent rights.
Even if agreement at the WTO could be obtained instantly: patent rights aren’t the only bottleneck, or the most important bottleneck, in the task of enabling scaled-up production of these medicines at sites around the world.
in Pill Form:
Patents exist for good reason. They create legal certainty for those who innovate and develop medical breakthroughs, incentivizing the considerable capital expenditures that requires. Even a for-this-emergency-only waiver will undermine legal certainty on the subject and the consequent incentives.