Taking cognisance of the high number of patent applications related to Covid-19 technologies filed globally over the past year highlighted by India, South Africa, Egypt and Indonesia in a joint submission, the WTO has scheduled a series of meetings to decide on intellectual property (IP) waiver extension for Covid-19 diagnostics and therapeutics by December this year.

At a meeting of the WTO’s TRIPS Council on Monday in Geneva, it was decided that three rounds of informal meetings will be held on November 2, November 16 and December 6, with the possibility of a last one on December 15, so that a decision on the crucial issue of IP waiver could be reached by the deadline of December 17, a Geneva-based trade official told BusinessLine.

At the 12 th WTO Ministerial Conference in June, it was decided to extend a temporary IP waiver to Covid-19 vaccines under specific conditions while a decision on diagnostics and therapeutics was postponed by six months.

Stressing the need to meet the deadline, the joint submission cited the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) Patent Landscape Report indicating that between 2020-2021, there were 5,293 patent applications filed related to Covid-19 technologies. The filings for therapeutics outnumbered those on vaccines, at an approximate 4:1 ratio.

The document further pointed out that many of these patent applications are for repurposed drugs rather than innovative products developed to treat Covid-19 and that government funding had supported a significant part of the research and clinical trial efforts. 

Some patent applications may face challenges but those granted will delay the entry of generic products that would otherwise increase global supply of Covid-19 treatments, the joint paper noted.

As this would result in price increases which would further restrict access, it is important that the waiver be extended to therapeutics at the earliest, it said.

Challenging the argument extended by some other members that voluntary licensing offered by patent holders could take care of the problem of restricted access, India, South Africa, Egypt and Indonesia pointed out in the paper that there had been limited voluntary licensing to date and such licenses were limited in scope.

India and South Africa submitted the initial proposal for a temporary waiver for IP on patented vaccines and therapeutics for treating Covid-19 on October 2, 2020.

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