Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) Waiver

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    • India, with South Africa, piloted a proposal to waive key provisions of the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) agreement on Covid-19 vaccines, drugs, therapeutics, and related technologies.

    Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS)

    • About:
      • The TRIPS agreement is part of the international legal order on trade enshrined in the World Trade Organisation (WTO). 
    • Year: 
      • It was negotiated in 1995 at the WTO.
      • The WTO adopted the Doha Declaration in 2001, which clarified that in the event of a public health emergency, governments could compel companies to licence their patents to manufacturers even if they did not think the offered price was acceptable.
    • Aim: 
      • To guarantee minimum standards of IP protection 
      • Provide legal consistency that enables innovators to monetize their intellectual property in multiple countries.
    • Areas covered:
      • The areas of intellectual property that it covers are: 
        • copyright and related rights (i.e. the rights of performers, producers of sound recordings and broadcasting organizations); 
        • trademarks including service marks; 
        • geographical indications including appellations of origin; 
        • industrial designs; 
        • patents including the protection of new varieties of plants; 
        • the layout-designs of integrated circuits;
        • undisclosed information including trade secrets and test data.
    • Role:
      • It plays a central role in facilitating trade in knowledge and creativity, in resolving trade disputes over IP, and in assuring WTO members the latitude to achieve their domestic policy objectives.  
    • Benefits: 
      • Under the TRIPS agreement, the Governments can compel companies to license their patents to other manufacturers, (even if companied think the offered price is not acceptable) in case of a public health emergency.
    • Latest Proposal:
      • The core idea behind the proposal is that intellectual property (IP) rights such as patents should not become a barrier in scaling up the production of medical products like vaccines, diagnostics and therapeutics essential to combat Covid-19. 

    Shortcomings that impacted India’s global campaign

    • Indian Patent Act: 
      • During the entire pandemic, India rarely made use of the existing flexibilities under the Indian Patent Act, such as compulsory licences (CL), which are consistent with the TRIPS agreement, to increase the supply of Covid-19 medical products despite being nudged by the judiciary to do so. 
    • TRIPS waiver:
      • India did not proactively develop a national strategy to implement the TRIPS waiver as and when it was adopted. 
      • A TRIPS waiver at the WTO would only be an enabling framework. 
      • It would then require member countries to amend their domestic IP laws to implement the waiver. India, as a country leading the TRIPS waiver battle internationally, should have developed a draft model law enunciating how it would implement the waiver. 
    • Failed to get Indian pharma on board:
      • The government failed to get the Indian pharmaceutical industry on board. 
      • Pharmaceutical bodies are a divided lot with many Indian companies speaking against the waiver, thus denting India’s global campaign.
    • Vaccine development and waivers:
      • Fourth, India is one of the few countries that has successfully developed a fully indigenous Covid-19 vaccine, Covaxin. 
      • Given the involvement of taxpayers’ money in developing the vaccine, India should have unlocked its technical know-how to the world. 
      • While technology transfer agreements for Covaxin have been inked with domestic companies, making the vaccine technology available to anyone interested globally, at a minimal price, would have exhibited India’s resolve to walk the talk on the TRIPS waiver. 
      • It would have also shamed the developed world.

    Way Ahead

    • Need of the hour is to address the linkage constraints like supply side problems while keeping the focus on containing the pandemic.
    • It will help India in demonstrating a good leadership globally and make a sound mark.

    Sources: IE