Philippines Supports Proposed TRIPS Waiver of Covid-19 Intellectual Property – Commentary
The Philippines expressed support for India and South Africa’s October 2020 proposal for a brief waiver from the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property (TRIPS) with respect to the intellectual property related to covid-19. A government spokesperson summed up as follows: “Like all developing countries, we want vaccine equality, and one way to achieve this is through a TRIPS waiver.” This is characteristic of the sentiment in Southeast Asia; see, for example, “Thailand rejects covid-19 drug granted by European Patent Office and US Patent and Trademark Office”.
Figure 1: The Red Cross carrying out a covid-19 test in the Philippines
The proposal is to suspend intellectual property rights related to covid-19 until widespread vaccination is in place around the world and the majority of the world’s population has developed immunity. Dr. Julie Caguiat of the Philippine Citizens’ Urgent Response to End Covid-19 believes this will increase vaccine supply without putting the Philippines in debt during a public emergency. Dr Joshua San Pedro of the People’s Right to Health Coalition added that while the Philippines might have the capacity to create vaccines, diagnostics and medicines, it lacks licensing for protected innovation rights in key areas. In this vein, the waiver of the TRIPS Agreement would erase the landscape and allow freedom to operate.
Vaccines are traditionally thought of as an injection that prevents a disease. However, covid-19 vaccines are not designed to prevent disease, but rather to reduce suffering or the impact of the virus on the human body. These vaccines are not the only intellectual property under debate. There are a growing number of patents covering the treatment of covid-19. It is hoped that wealthy Southeast Asian governments can find a compromise between innovators and covid-19 patients.