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DTI pitches voluntary licensing for vaccines

PHARMACEUTICAL firms should opt to secure voluntary licensing to produce Covid-19 doses despite the worldwide call to waive patent protection for the vaccine, the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) said.

Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez said there is only a slim chance the waiver for Covid-19 vaccine intellectual property (IP) rights will be approved by the World Trade Organization (WTO) given there is no consensus yet.

According to reports, over 100 countries have supported the proposal to allow quicker mass production of the doses amid surging infection rate. However, the European Union, Britain, Switzerland, and the United States, among others, said that maintaining IP rights for Covid-19 vaccines will encourage pharmaceutical firms to further their research and development.

“In the end, what should happen, if ever, is voluntary licensing instead. This cannot be done unilaterally,” Lopez said.

In securing a voluntary license, the patent holder is authorizing a generic company to produce patented articles, such as the Covid-19 doses.

“At this point, it is a supply issue where the vaccine manufacturers cannot keep up with the global demand rather than IP issue,” Lopez added.

Should the waiver be approved, the Trade chief explained the Philippines still has to implement its IP laws, which means patent protection remains. “To suspend application of IP laws, this will require amendments of our IP laws,” he said.

“Moreover, in addition to WTO Agreements, the Philippines has other [free trade agreements] which we have to comply with in good faith,” Lopez added.

IPOPHL’s take

Currently, the DTI-chaired Technical Committee on WTO Matters, where Intellectual Property of the Philippines (IPOPHL) is a member, is still reviewing the matter.

The DTI and IPOPHL said some aspects of the petition to waive patent protection are not clear yet.

“It may be noted that as of date, the proposal remains to be vague and lacking of details as to certain elements particularly, on its operationalization,” IPOPHL Director General Rowel S. Barba told the BusinessMirror.

Barba said that while the Philippines has yet to decide its position on the matter, the IPOPHL is considering both the public health and IP system as it proceeds with the discussions.

“IPOPHL recognizes the paramount importance and primacy of public health and the need to balance it with a stable and predictable IP system to foster and promote innovation and creativity among Filipinos,” Barba said. “This will remain to be our consideration in discussing the issue with the other relevant government agencies as we prepare the Philippine position.”

IPOPHL said it will continuously monitor the developments of the proposal in the WTO’s Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) council.

WTO’s TRIPS Agreement is a multilateral accord on intellectual property covering copyright and related rights, trademarks, geographical indications, industrial designs and patents, among others.

The agreement, which took effect on January 1, 1995, sets the minimum standards of IP protection, enumerates enforcement procedures and covers dispute settlement.

Last week, the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) urged the Philippine business community to “pressure” the government to eliminate trade barriers that may hamper the delivery of Covid-19 doses.

ICC Secretary General John W.H. Denton said the governments across the world can reduce legal barriers, lift export restrictions and even eliminate tariffs on pharmaceutical and medical goods. These, in addition to streamlining the customs procedures to ease trade facilitation, he said.

Image courtesy of Nonoy Lcza

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