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WTO members should start text-based talks on patent waiver proposal: India

The World Trade Organisation (WTO) members must infuse some certainty during this crisis by agreeing to initiate text-based talks on the proposed patent waiver proposal to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, India has said.

According to India’s statement delivered at a TRIPS informal meeting held on May 31, the country has requested to find ways and means to commence text-based negotiations, even if few members continue with their repeated attempts to delay the process.

A proposal was submitted by 62 co-sponsors — including India, South Africa, and Indonesia — seeking patent waivers to manufacture COVID-19-related medical products.

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In October 2020, India and South Africa had submitted the first proposal, suggesting a waiver on the implementation of certain provisions of the TRIPS Agreement in relation to the prevention, containment or treatment of COVID-19.

The agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights or TRIPS came into effect in January 1995. It is a multilateral agreement on intellectual property (IP) rights such as copyright, industrial designs, patents and protection of undisclosed information or trade secrets.

“The virus has not given us a timeout to go on endlessly discussing the need for or benefit of a waiver. We must rather infuse some certainty in these uncertain times by agreeing to start text-based negotiations on the waiver proposal,” India said in the statement.

Not allowing text-based negotiations will do “more harm” to WTO’s credibility and this collective failure will be remembered by posterity, according to the statement.

Several rounds of discussions on this proposal have taken place over the past months. The co-sponsors of the proposal have provided comprehensive responses, including written responses to many of the concerns and questions raised by the members.

“There is no dearth of arguments, rationale and data provided to exhibit both the waiver’s significance and its urgency,” it added.

The TRIPS waiver is a necessary, proportionate and temporary legal measure for removing IP barriers and paving the way for more companies to produce COVID-19 vaccines, therapeutics or diagnostics by providing them with the freedom to operate without the fear of infringement of IP rights or the threat of litigation.

“We as co-sponsors of the waiver proposal recognise that IPs are not the only barrier to augmenting manufacturing and addressing supply-side constraints. However, we do believe that IPs are the biggest barrier in addressing supply-side constraints, and thus need to be addressed on priority. The waiver is not sufficient, but rather a necessary element of a multi-pronged strategy,” the statement said.

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