Biden’s undermining of U.S. intellectual property rights is dangerous and will hurt pandemic response

Article by Lorenzo Montanari published in Forbes on May 12, 2021

In an abrupt and unprecedented move, the Biden administration plans to strip intellectual property rights from American vaccine manufacturers. The government completely reframed the debate on the IP waiver, originally petitioned by South Africa and India last fall to the WTO’s Council for the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS). 

The leading voice behind the Biden surrender on IP protection was U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai, who said, “The administration believes strongly in intellectual property protections, but in service of ending this pandemic, supports the waiver of those protections for COVID-19 vaccines.” However, the intellectual property rights of innovators are not a barrier to the rapid acceleration of COVID-19 production the world needs.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel was the first world leader that stood strongly against Biden’s position. She said, “I already made clear that I don’t believe that releasing patents is the solution to provide vaccines for more people.”

EU leaders pushed back against Biden’s move during the recent European Council summit in Oporto, Portugal. “On intellectual property, we don’t think in the short term that it’s a magic bullet, but we are ready to engage on this topic as soon as we have a concrete proposal on the table,” European Council President Charles Michel said. French President Emanuel Macron clearly stated, “The priority today is not intellectual property — […] It’s production.” Macron continues declaring that “Anglo-Saxons are blocking a lot of these ingredients and vaccines. Today, 100 percent of the vaccines produced in the United States of America go to the American market”. The EU has produced 400 million doses while exporting 200 million to 90 countries. “We should be open to this discussion, but when we lead this discussion there needs to be a 360-degree view on it because we need vaccines now for the whole world.” Ursula von der Leyen, President of the EU Commission also critical to White House position says, “And in the short and medium-term, the IP waiver will not solve the problems, will not bring a single dose of vaccine in the short and medium-term.”

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