"" Photograph by Vincenzo Livieri
Statement |

Statement to the WIPO 32nd Session of the Standing Committee on the Law of Patents

3 min
Photograph by Vincenzo Livieri
"" Photograph by Vincenzo Livieri

Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), December 09, 2020, delivered by Yuanqiong HU

Thank you, Madam Chair. Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) welcomes the SCP to continue the discussion of the agenda item Patents and Health. It is a critical time for WIPO members to closely examine the implication of patent law on access to medicines in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.  

Since the beginning of the pandemic, MSF has been witnessing multiple challenges to ensure global access to all needed medical tools, and the need for the rapid removal of IP barriers to lifesaving medical products. While public funding from different governments and the collective efforts at the global level have been driving the research and development on critical medicines and vaccines, the pharmaceutical industry continues to claim private monopoly over those lifesaving products that are needed by all. With several hundreds of patents, owned by different entities, attached to some of the key vaccine technologies used for COVID-19 research, and granted patents on some of the emerging therapeutics in more than 50 countries, some countries and industry sector continue to deny the need to address IP barriers in this pandemic. While global initiatives on equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines and medicines such as the WHO ACT-A are facing competition from the wealthier countries who are conducting bilateral actions and hoarding of limited resources at the international level, removing existing and future IP barriers to allow uninterrupted production and supply is essential to achieve true equity and timely access for developing countries.

Madam Chair, it is not the time for business as usual. We have been analysing the existing and emerging challenges and call for adequate and bold law and policy solutions at both the international and national levels. In this situation, we call for this Committee to closely examine the limitations of voluntary licenses used by the pharmaceutical industry in the past and in this pandemic, and examine the limitations of relying on country-by-country and product-by-product approaches of addressing IP challenges in the pandemic.  

In light of these observations, MSF calls for all WIPO members to support an important process at the WTO TRIPS Council on a temporary waiver from certain provisions under the TRIPS agreement concerning COVID-19 health technologies. MSF considers the waiver proposal as having adequately identified the limitations of relying on voluntary licensing and the need to have additional government-led measures in supplementing the existing TRIPS flexibilities for public health safeguarding. If adopted, the waiver could facilitate quicker and better collaboration in development, production and supply of COVID-19 technologies without being restricted by private industry’s interests and actions. The process at WTO should inform this Committee especially concerning challenges facing different members. 

To support our statement, MSF has recently published two technical briefings on the key issues of the TRIPS waiver proposal and the limitations of voluntary licenses in the context of access to medicines, building upon our over one decade of experiences with voluntary licenses on medicines. We will share these documents with the secretariat for consideration by the SCP members. Thank you Chair. 

1.    Briefing: Overcoming IP barriers in COVID-19 pandemic 
2.    Briefing: Voluntary license and access to medicines
3.    Briefing: Myths and realities on the COVID-19 TRIPS waiver proposal