The pandemic has not dampened patenting activities across the globe, according to a recent report from the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO).

“Universities and research organisations have filed nearly as many patent applications as corporations for Covid vaccines during the early months of the global pandemic,” points out the WIPO’s recently released Patent Landscape Report on Covid-related vaccines and therapeutics.

The report comes even as international negotiations are underway for a temporary IP waiver on Covid-linked products, including vaccines, to facilitate greater access to these products. The IP waiver proposal was initially made by India and South Africa at the World Trade Organisation in October 2020.

Pointing to the “extraodinarily active” filing activity related to the pandemic, the WIPO report said: “In the first 21 months of the pandemic, close to 5,300 patent applications relating to Covid were filed across 49 patent offices. This included nearly 1,500 filings related to therapeutics and over 400 filings related to vaccines.”

“By comparison, from 1941 to 2011, there were just over 500 patent filings related to active ingredients about the influenza vaccines (WIPO, 2012). Even during the SARS outbreak of the early 2000s, fewer than 1,000 related patents were published, with no vaccine candidate emerging,” it added.

IP-observers say the WIPO report’s findings reinforce, in a sense, the rationale behind the need for an IP waiver. The report found that the “greatest number of Covid patent filings were related to conventional vaccine technologies and repurposed drugs, followed by more-novel vaccine technologies like mRNA”.

“It (report) shows that the arguments by those opposing the IP waiver do not stand. In fact, patent filings are still ongoing (on newer products),” KM Gopakumar, an IP expert with Third World Network, told BusinessLine.

Some public health voices expressed concern on efforts being made to call an end to the pandemic. The temporary IP waiver is as long as the pandemic lasts, and some vaccine makers have suspended taking royalties from companies to whom they have licensed out technology for this period. Gopakumar said the issue of access persists. “Just days ago, the UN Secretary General said the pandemic was not over, and called for an equitable distribution of vaccines,” he pointed out.

Vaccine filings

On vaccine filings, the WIPO report said universities and public research organisations accounted for 44 per cent of the total, compared with 49 per cent by companies.

Among the top 10 applicants for vaccines were China, the US, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom, Republic of Korea, Germany, India, Austria, Switzerland and Australia. “China, the US and India were the top origins for therapeutics. India and the Republic of Korea saw higher filing activity for therapeutics than vaccines,” it added.

Pointing to how regulatory authorities also paved the way for speedy approvals, the report said: “Initial data from top patent offices showed comparatively quick grants for patent applications related to Covid, with innovators utilising general fast-track avenues or specific Covid measures designed to bring new products to the public quickly. By comparison, they were processed faster than patent applications in the field of chemistry and bioscience in the same period (January 2020 to September 2021).”

The report also sought to point out that collaborations between universities, research organisations and companies helped speed up the development of Covid vaccines and therapeutics in the face of the pandemic.