EU launches WTO dispute against China over 5G IP
On February 18, the European Union launched a legal challenge against China at the World Trade Organization, arguing that Chinese courts were preventing European companies from protecting their cellular technology patents. The EU considers that China is violating the WTO TRIPS Agreement, as Chinese courts continue to issue broad anti-suit injunctions (ASIs), thus deterring owners of cellular standard essential patents (SEPs) from litigating patent licensing disputes outside of China. Alongside the broad ASIs, it has been asserted that the Chinese courts are setting unduly low global licensing rates in their rulings. While the EU case focuses on ASIs, industry experts point out that it is the combination strategy that harms the position of European and other SEP owners. The European Commission filed the challenge on behalf of the 27 EU members, and other WTO members, such as Australia and the UK, have already joined the case. The next step is consultations.
A Covid vaccine breakthrough bypasses the stale debate on patent waivers
Heated debates have taken place at the WTO TRIPS Council over Covid-19 vaccine patents and IP rights, with ongoing discussions still taking place among diplomats from the US, India, South Africa, and the EU. For vaccine researchers, manufacturers, and public experts, though, the focus may have moved on some time ago, says Alan Beattie in a new “trade secrets” posting for the FT. Governments seem also to be shifting focus to emphasize practical efforts to extend manufacturing and distribution capacity globally; by way of example, the EU recently announced a €1bn contribution to finance the German company BioNTech to set up a mobile vaccine manufacturing plant in Africa assembled from kits.
BioNTech to supply modular vaccine plants to African countries
The German company BioNTech announced on February 16th its plans to supply modular plants to make mRNA vaccines to Rwanda, Senegal and, potentially, South Africa. This announcement came ahead of a Europe-Africa summit at which increasing vaccine production in Africa is expected to be a vital topic of discussion. Not only would BioNTech be responsible for the delivery and installation of the modules, but the company said it was prepared to transfer know-how to local partners to enable them to operate independently.
While it had been previously stated that voluntary technology transfers had so far been limited during the pandemic, this was contradicted by research published end-2021, which can be found in an online report.
What South Korea’s vaccine industry success teaches us about global trade policy
Jennifer Brant of the Innovation Council co-authored an article with Godfrey Firth for the World Economic Forum that uses the example of South Korea to show that tariff, trade facilitation and regulatory harmonisation measures can facilitate the global response to health crises such as COVID-19.
Trade secrecy and COVID-19
In this working paper, Innovation Council’s Mark Schultz and his colleagues analyse how trade secrets and other IPRs underpin innovation and manufacturing of Covid-19 Vaccines. They document that innovators already are sharing secrets and know-how widely with dozens of partners across the world to produce vaccine and therapeutic doses as quickly as possible. In several instances, they are working closely with their biggest competitors, thanks to the security provided by trade secrecy and other IP laws.
The authors conclude that forcing the disclosure of trade secrets would get in the way of manufacturing badly needed doses of Covid-19 vaccines by undermining voluntary arrangements and diverting resources from where they are needed most.
Trade restrictions are delaying the COVID response. The WTO must act
Together with Thaddeus Burns, Innovation Council member Merck LF, Jennifer Brant has co-authored a paper on the delay in the COVID response caused by trade restrictions and explains why the WTO must act. The human costs of the pandemic, already dire, continue to mount. Vaccines against COVID have been developed at an unprecedented pace through a series of unprecedented partnerships. But this is not the end of the story; there is still an urgent need to expand vaccine protection worldwide, including through the expansion of biologic drug production capacity.
Panelists Discuss Why Patent Waiver Would Not Accelerate Global Vaccine Distribution
At a panel held in June by The Chartered Institute of Patent Attorneys (CIPA), two vaccine scientists, Professor Robin Shattock (Imperial College, London) and Dr. Anne Moore (University College Cork) discussed their thoughts on why a patent waiver related to COVID-19 vaccines would not speed up vaccine distribution in lower income countries.
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The Big Secret Behind the Proposed TRIPS Waiver
James Pooley, former Deputy Director General of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), describes in this article how TRIPS only creates obligations for governments to pass laws supporting intellectual property rights of certain kinds: patents, copyrights, designs, trademarks, and trade secrets. Importantly, it doesn’t affect the private ownership of those rights. This is an important distinction, especially for trade secrets (or “undisclosed information” as they are called in TRIPS), because, unlike the other “registered” rights, they don’t depend for their existence on government certification. Rather, trade secrets only require a legal system that enforces confidentiality. Furthermore, although patents usually steal the limelight in conversations about “technology transfer,” the truth is that they are only a part of most technology transfer stories. After all, in order to actually build the factory and produce the goods, you need to know more than what’s in the patents.
Virtual symposium to mark 25 years of the TRIPS Agreement
The WTO is organizing on 24 November 2020 a virtual symposium to mark the 25th Anniversary of the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS Agreement). This will be the first of a series of commemorative events reflecting on the impact and evolution of the most comprehensive multilateral treaty on intellectual property protection and enforcement.