D.ie variant B.1.1.529 of the coronavirus, which was first identified in South Africa, has rekindled the discussion about the release of patents for Covid vaccines. “The variant discovered in South Africa clearly shows that we have to temporarily release the patents for the Covid vaccines,” said Anna Cavazzini. The Green politician is the chairwoman of the Internal Market Committee in the European Parliament.
“The EU is the only major economic area in the world that has blocked this so far and puts itself in an outsider position worldwide,” says Cavazzini. “The new variant shows that insisting on patent protection is also throwing us back in Europe in the fight against Covid. It annoys me immensely that we did not approve the patents from the start and therefore lost so much time. “
The discussion breaks out again at a delicate point in time: In the coming week, trade ministers from all over the world should actually meet for a conference of the World Trade Organization (WTO). The event was canceled late Friday evening due to the pandemic situation. At the top of the agenda of the MC12-baptized meeting, which has already been postponed due to Covid-19, was among many other points the release of patents for Covid vaccines. The meeting may have been canceled, but the discussion is gaining momentum anyway.
India and South Africa filed a motion with the WTO more than a year ago, demanding that all patents be released for those products that can help prevent, contain and treat Covid-19. THEY refer to the fight against AIDS, where it was only the release of patents that made the disease manageable in Africa.
Merkel skeptical about patent approval
An impressive alliance had supported the demand from the start: almost all emerging and developing countries, the World Health Organization and organizations such as “Doctors Without Borders”. In May, US President Joe Biden also expressed his support – presumably not for altruistic reasons. Activists and voters had put considerable pressure on democratic politicians.
So far, resistance to the release of patents has mainly come from countries with large pharmaceutical companies, above all from Switzerland, Great Britain and the EU. The Executive Chancellor Angela Merkel has expressed herself very skeptically about the patent release and the EU Commission has so far opposed the demands.
Opponents of the clearance argue that the production of Covid vaccines is expensive and demanding and that.
Any loosening of patent protection will die because vaccine production will not be accelerated. Additionally, one move could discourage companies from investing in vaccine development.
WTO chief Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala last warned on Thursday that talks about patent approval had stalled. In view of the virus mutation in southern Africa, however, there is now increasing public pressure on those who insist on the protection of patents.
An agreement in question, which, unlike many of the other issues on the agenda in Geneva, is accompanied by a great deal of public interest, could help decide the WTO.
The organization is considered clumsy, encrusted and has not been fully functional in recent years. Many observers question their future role. A public agreement on Covid vaccinations could strengthen the organization.
In fact, shortly before the meeting, the issue began to turn. Valdis Dombrovskis, the Vice President of the European Commission responsible for trade issues, had previously refused to release patents, but now wanted to travel to Geneva with a compromise proposal. “The EU’s position has evolved,” says a senior EU official familiar with the deliberations. “We take the worries seriously.”
Production of vaccines through limited exemptions
Not all details of the compromise proposal are known so far, but Dombrovskis wants emerging countries to allow the production of vaccines through limited exemptions that should be possible under the already existing WTO rules.
The regulations should allow governments in emerging countries to instruct domestic vaccine producers to produce local copies of Covid vaccines, regardless of whether the patent holders agree or not.
The main distinction between such compulsory licenses and the release of patents: The copies made on site are usually only allowed to be sold in your own country.
In addition, companies like Biontech / Pfizer, Moderna or AstraZeneca still have control over the patents for the products and can require manufacturers in the emerging countries to pay for the production license fees.
“This solution could die the production of vaccines and other products that regions like Africa need, simplify and at the same time receive incentives for innovation and investment,” said Dombrovskis before the meeting, which has now been canceled. “We need a sensible solution that works in the real world,” said the Latvian politician in a swipe at the demands for the complete release of patents.
However, the EU Commission continues to reject a full release of the patents, as has already been requested twice by a majority in the European Parliament. “We have made it very clear that we do not believe that the right approach is simply to remove patent protection in the pandemic,” says a senior EU official who is familiar with the deliberations. “That would be tremendously explosive and would call into question all contracts that are currently in force, without creating more flexibility at the same time.”
“Everything on stocks” is the daily stock market shot from the WELT business editorial team. Every morning from 7 a.m. with the financial journalists from WELT. For stock market experts and newcomers. Subscribe to the podcast at Spotify, Apple podcast, Amazon music and Deezer. Or directly via Rss feed.