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IP controversy: Should US lift vaccine rights?

May 18, 2021 | Patent Law, Patent News

The global population has been suffering the effects of COVID-19 for over a year. In many countries, vaccine availability has been a source of hope. However, not all countries have access to enough vaccines. This is due in part to intellectual property rules that prevent others from producing vaccines.

Because of this, about 100 countries are requesting that the U.S. and other countries temporarily lift these restrictions.

No easy answers

Those asking for a temporary waiver maintain that making the rights for vaccines available to everyone will make it easier to fight the virus – especially in poorer countries.

Some call it a “moral responsibility” to waive these rights. Some argue that patents for vaccines in a pandemic prevent competition when the focus should be on cooperating.

However, officials and pharmaceutical companies have different perspectives. They maintain that lifting intellectual property rights will not automatically make vaccines available to every country. Besides the IP restrictions, manufacturing and distribution limitations also prevent these countries from making vaccines available.

Further, they say that they are helping in other ways, including donating vaccines.

Patent disputes in innovative industries

Patents are a valuable tool in protecting ownership rights of innovative products and solutions. They allow the patent holder to control who can make and sell patented material, which can be vital in inventive industries. 

Typically, medical devices and pharmaceuticals would fall into this category. However, in the current environment of a pandemic, disputes over patent protection are more controversial.

One side wants to preserve the patent holder’s rights. Those on the other side may feel these rights are irrelevant compared to the global impact that lifting restrictions could have on ending this pandemic.

Officials will need to weigh each argument carefully in the coming days. Their decisions could have a dramatic impact on the current situation and similar cases that could arise in the future.