The World Trade Organization (WTO) is expected to come up with a decision later this year on the proposed waiver agreement on the patents of COVID-19 vaccines, but the EU, which hosts the most number of COVID-19 vaccine manufacturers, has opposed the planned patent waiver and instead pushed for a less disruptive compromise to ensure all countries can access treatment and protection from the disease.

At the virtual forum on “Role of IP in Addressing the COVID-19 Pandemic: To Waive or not to Waive Patent Rights”, Atty, Lolibeth Ramit Medrano, Intellectual Property Office of the Philippines (IPOPHL) Bureau of Patents Director, noted of the informal and open minded discussion on the EU proposal to the TRIPS Council Informal Consultation last June 24, 2021. TRIPS or the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights is an international legal agreement between all the member nations of the WTO. TRIPS is the most comprehensive multilateral agreement on intellectual property.

“The EU proposal, of course, is obviously more conservative and less disruptive compared to the waiver agreement,” said Medrano.

Medrano noted that the TRIPS Council meeting was informal and open-ended. It was virtually attended by members including the Philippines’s Permanent Mission in Geneva and capital-based

representatives from IPOPHL, including herself and some colleagues.

“We foresee frequent meetings this month because we really see a target decision to be made by the WTO Ministerial Conference approval in November-December,” she said.

On the part of the IPOPHL, Medrano said that they defer to the Department of Trade and Industry-led committee on WTO Matters for the national position on the issue.

Due to the pandemic, the multilateral trading organization WTO is weighing the proposed patent agreement on COVID-19 vaccines to make vaccines available and accessible to all.

Medrano explained that under the Philippines’ IP Code, patents are not absolute and are subject to limitations. Section 72 of the IP Code provides for the limitations of patent rights for non-commercial use, experimental, scientific or educational purposes and for individual pharmaceutical preparations. Section 74 also provides for government use of patented inventions.

Members of the TRIPS Council are also provided policy space such as exclusions, exhaustion regimes, limitations and standards of patentability.

Under the basic patent principles, patents are protected only in the territory where they are issued. In the Philippines, no patent issued has been issued for any COVID-19 vaccine.

Likewise, methods of treatment and diagnostic methods are not patentable subject matters. Patents are also instruments to protect and promote national public health, security, and nutrition.

Section 74 of the law also states that government can use patents as tool against anti competitive

practice; drugs and medicines for national emergency or other circumstances of extreme urgency, for public non-commercial use; and where demand of in the country is not being adequately met.

A trilateral study of the World Health Organization, World IP Organization, and WTO stated that the goal of improving public health cannot be achieved by health policy alone as it is the result of the dynamic interplay of policy areas, relating to health system, regulation, trade and competition policy, procurement policy and IP system.

Arguments on vaccines availability also point to the reluctance of the vaccine manufacturers to ramp up their production in absence of the pre-purchase commitments but is not cased by patent restrictions.

Some government officials also said that the limited global supply prevents vaccine manufacturers from entering supply agreements with the government.

Source: Manila Bulletin (