Would it be an advantage to waive vaccine patents, now that there is an imminent threat of vaccine shortage, and the vaccination program is slipping? The short answer is no, and here is why.
The scarcity of vaccines has led to a very specific political wish to waive vaccine patents.
May 5, the US announced its support for a move at the World Trade Organization (WTO) to temporarily lift patent protections for coronavirus vaccines.
Around the same time, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen also said the EU is also ready to discuss the proposal and address the crisis in a pragmatic manner (Source: BBC News).
This week, the case developed further when the EU Parliament voted in favor of a motion to temporarily suspend COVID-19 vaccine patents on Wednesday, June 9. While the Parliament cannot tell the Commission what to do, the vote sends a strong political message to the Commission.
Initially the idea to suspend vaccine patents may sound attractive. But the fact is that it is founded on a wrong knowledge base and risks inhibiting the innovative force in society, says Kim Wagner, patent attorney and partner at Plougmann Vingtoft.
Below, he gives you three good reasons why politicians should not waive vaccine patents.
1. There is no such thing as vaccine patents
The patent system can be traced all the way back to the Middle Ages, where royal personages gave exclusive rights to craftsmen with very special skills. The purpose was to ensure that the craftsmen were rewarded for their original ideas by no one being able to steal them without being punished.
So, patents protect ideas. But the illusion that a single patent covers a complete vaccine is misguided. According to Kim Wagner, the COVID-19 vaccines need to be viewed in another light.
“There is not a Pfizer-BioNTech patent or an AstraZeneca patent that covers their approved vaccines from A to Z. To be granted a patent is an extensive process, which cannot be accomplished in a year. However, without a doubt there are many sub-elements of the vaccine that have been patented. It’s just like with cars: They consist of a great many patented sub-elements. But just as there is not a single patent that covers all of the new BMW or Mercedes, there are no patents that already cover specific COVID-19 vaccines,” he explains.
2. A patent is not a recipe
Kim Wagner believes that a new manufacturer, who wishes to copy a patent, will have difficulties obtaining the necessary facilities and approvals within a reasonable time period.
“A patent is not a recipe you can simply follow. Even if it was possible to force a waiver on Pfizer-BioNTech’s vaccine patent and publish all data for general use, you would first have to build a factory, one that must be approved by the authorities. It would take years before you would be able to start producing the necessary quantities,” he says and adds:
”A lot of established pharmaceutical companies have been developing a COVID-19 vaccine for a year already. In time, we will see even more vaccines, and then shortage will disappear – and so will the debate about waiving patents,” says Kim Wagner.
3. Patents promote innovation
Basically patents may be regarded as a collective bargaining agreement between company and society. The manufacturer develops a new technology to the benefit of the society and in exchange, as some sort of reward, the company receives an exclusive right to that technology for a number of years. The agreement is essential in order to urge innovation in society, and Kim Wagner dreads the thought of what will happen if this practice is impeded.
”We cannot have an effective development of pharmaceuticals, if it’s not possible to obtain exclusivity for some period of time. The companies must be guaranteed a possibility of earning back the billions that they have invested in the development phase,” he says.
He believes that you should see the patent system as an innovative force – not a barrier. A lot of new and improved products are actually developed, because patent blocks force the companies to think outside the box.
“The old saying of necessity is the mother of invention also applies to the patent system. Innovation can only be ensured by forcing companies to think innovatively,” says Kim Wagner and continues:
“We could never have reached the technological stage that we were at in March 2020, if we hadn’t had the patent system. The patent system is a crucial part of how we are able to develop vaccines so extraordinarily fast today, and I cannot see why we would want to change that.”
At Plougmann Vingtoft we believe in the innovation that the patent system creates. If you have any questions regarding patents or trademarks, then do not hesitate contacting our experts.
We lead the field and would be happy to talk about the options of protecting your ideas.