This spring, President Biden announced that the United States would support waiving intellectual property protections for COVID-19 vaccines in order to quickly get more vaccines to more people around the world. The response to this move has been mixed, which gives us an excellent opportunity to chat a bit about international intellectual property rights.
Lomnitzer Law is proud to say that international IP law is an area of law we practice. We regularly assist innovators here in South Florida and around the world who want to secure their intellectual property in the United States and abroad.
Vaccines are one of the items protected from duplication under the World Trade Organization’s Agreement on Trade-Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS). The American companies that developed the three vaccines we have all been offered have the exclusive right to produce and distribute those vaccines — here in the United States and around the world.
However, if all the nations that are part of the World Trade Organization (WTO) agree that some sort of waiver should be given to allow generic versions of the vaccines to be produced, those IP protections may disappear, or at the very least be weakened. Getting all of the WTO members to agree on something is difficult, which is why having the United States come out in support early on carries a lot of weight. Our country’s opinion on something has a lot of sway in general, and is particularly important in this instance.
“This is a global health crisis, and the extraordinary circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic call for extraordinary measures. 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,” United States Trade Representative Katherine Tai said in a statement.
Not everyone is on board with the push for a waiver. The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America released a statement expressing concern that “In the midst of a deadly pandemic, the Biden Administration has taken an unprecedented step that will undermine our global response to the pandemic and compromise safety. This decision will sow confusion between public and private partners, further weaken already strained supply chains and foster the proliferation of counterfeit vaccines.”
There is an economic argument to be made as well. In an editorial in the Miami Herald, Florida venture capitalist Louis Berneman asked, “What drives such innovation in the Sunshine State and around the country?” And answered, “Obviously, scientists love seeing their hard work result in innovations that change the way people live, work and play. But economic incentives matter, too. Scientists can’t work for free. They have families, mortgages and bills to pay like everyone else.”
This is certainly an issue that the Lomnitzer Law attorneys will be keeping a close eye on. Securing intellectual property rights for clients who do business around the world is an ongoing task that we perform for our clients.
Securing intellectual property rights is a critical part of doing business in the global economy. Diluting those rights, even on a limited basis, and in these extraordinary times, could have a far-reaching impact.
The Lomnitzer Law team will continue to monitor the potential for international IP waivers during the coronavirus pandemic and beyond. We will also continue to assist businesses and creators from South Florida and around the world who want to protect their intellectual property with patents, trademarks, and copyrights. We welcome anyone who wants to secure their IP rights to contact our experienced team of attorneys.