EU countries: ‘yes and no’ to release patents for Covid-19 vaccines


A rapid suspension of patent protection for Covid-19 vaccines is not desirable according to the EU member states. Close cooperation between all relevant public and private actors is crucial in order to quickly increase production capacities and the global supply of vaccines against the novel coronavirus, writes the EU Council of Ministers in its conclusions on European policy on intellectual property rights.

The EU countries see it with on Friday adopted paper as a “promising path” to “rely on voluntary solutions for sharing intellectual property, know-how and data to ensure global access to critical products for the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of Covid-19.” In general, “intellectual property” is very important, especially for small and medium-sized companies and the economic recovery after the Corona crisis. Action against legal violations in this area such as counterfeiting and “piracy” must therefore be resolved.

The Council generally underlines the need for increased global support, particularly through the Covax initiative, in order to be able to offer vaccinations to as many people on earth as possible. The main focus is on donations from industrialized countries. The panel appeals to all vaccine-producing countries to “actively participate in global efforts to increase global supply”.

Ministers also recall that the EU is actively participating in the ongoing dialogue within the World Trade Organization “to find effective and pragmatic approaches for a robust, rapid and universal response to the pandemic and the best ways to support affordable and equitable access.” to explore vaccines against Covid-19 “. Above all, the Council has options for patent pooling, i.e. the mutual licensing of patents via a consortium, as well as other licensing initiatives and platforms for the exchange of vaccines and knowledge about them.

In the conclusions, however, the government representatives also underline that the EU is ready to “discuss other instruments”. This could include the flexible options provided for in the “Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights” (TRIPS). In principle, this also includes an exception to patent protection with the so-called “waiver”.

In October, South Africa and India submitted a proposal to the WTO to temporarily suspend patent rights for SARS-CoV-2 vaccines. In this way, manufacturers all over the world could produce the vaccine without license fees. Dozens of countries supported this proposal. The EU, Switzerland and other countries initially rejected it. According to them, the obstacle is not the patents, but production capacity, knowledge and raw material supplies. They also fear that know-how about the new types of mRNA vaccines could flow to China, for example.

In the recent dispute, however, the USA backed the demands of the poorer states. EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen (CDU) then expressed her willingness to talk about all effective measures to contain the pandemic, including a potential patent suspension, despite persistent skepticism. The EU Parliament had previously spoken out in favor of this. This could theoretically start negotiations on a specific regulatory text at WTO level.

According to agency reports, the SPD health expert Karl Lauterbach sees the corona crisis as a “historical failure” of the wealthy countries. “We have built up vaccination capacity that was tailored precisely to what we need ourselves,” he said on Saturday at an online conference of the Evangelical Academy in Tutzing. “We don’t have any additional vaccine production capacity for the poorer countries.”

The social democrat fears that this means that people in Southeast Asia, Africa and Latin America are largely exposed to an increasingly dangerous pandemic without protection. Because the more people are vaccinated, the more aggressive the virus has to become in order to spread further. Lauterbach expects herd immunity for Germany by mid-September. Then 80 percent of the adults are likely to have received a double injection.