Waiver of intellectual property rights due to COVID-19

In March, 2021, more than 250 organizations from all around the world, including the IPI, called on all WTO members to waive certain provisions of the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), including copyright provisions, to more effectively prevent, contain and treat COVID-19. Calls for the suspension of certain TRIPS provisions due to COVID-19 have been successful. The US was the first to take an important step. When will the EU act properly?

The Statement on Copyright and Proposal of a Waiver from Certain Provisions of the Trade- Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) Agreement for the Prevention, Containment and Treatment of COVID-19 calls for the waiver of certain provisions of TRIPS, to ensure that governments can issue orders, accept interpretations of their legislation, and amend and otherwise overcome copyright barriers to access the knowledge needed to tackle a pandemic.

The Statement called for urgent action to clarify that all copyright and related rights agreements must be interpreted and implemented in a way that respects human rights during a pandemic and other emergencies, and that governments should be allowed to protect and promote vital public interests during health or other emergencies and that they should be able to appropriately extend appropriate restrictions and exemptions to the digital environment during health or other emergencies.

The US has already responded positively. Katherine Tai, a representative for the U.S. Trade Representative’s Office, made a statement, announcing the Biden-Harris administration’s support for the waiver of intellectual property protection for COVID-19 vaccines. This is a great step in the right direction, towards greater solidarity in removing barriers to the prevention, restriction and treatment of COVID-19. At this point, however, it remains unclear whether the US government also had in mind the waiver of copyright protection, or simply the waiver of the protection of industrial property rights. The European Union should also follow this important step.