Access to Medicines and Knowledge, and the “Trade-Related Intellectual Property Rules (TRIPS)” Agreement of the WTO

Monopoly restrictions under the TRIPS agreement include patents on medicines (diagnostics, treatments, and vaccines) as well as copyright restrictions (such as on books, music, etc.) There is no economic evidence for the specific terms of the intellectual property restrictions in the WTO, which are the only WTO rules which actually restrict trade, reduce consumer choice, and increase prices thousands of times more than the marginal cost of production (and are therefore the opposite of “free” trade.)

At the time of the founding of the WTO, developed countries pressured developing countries into agreeing to such monopolies on the guise that they would promote development and innovation. However, IP-related incomes for the OECD members swelled from less than USD 50 billion at the time of the founding of the WTO, to more than USD 350 billion in 2017, while developing country incomes from IP have remained flat at close to zero.

In the context of the Covid pandemic, it is outrageous that the saving of human life through widespread distribution of vaccines and treatments, many of which were created with public investment, is being restricted in favor of monopoly profits of giant pharmaceutical corporations.

In October 2020, in the middle of the Covid pandemic, several developing countries proposed that certain provisions of the TRIPS Agreement (patents, trade secrets, copyright and industrial designs) in relation to the containment, prevention and treatment of COVID-19 should be waived for the duration. This proposal is now co-sponsored by the Africa Group and the Least Developed Country Group, most of the other developing countries and the international health community. Unfortunately, states representing “Big Pharma” interests have remained steadfastly opposed.

For extensive coverage of all proposals and statements regarding the waiver, please see the website of the Third World Network, an OWINFS member which is co-leading the campaign to support this waiver in the WTO .

In addition, Least Developed Countries (LDCs) are not required to implement TRIPS rules. They currently have the right to a transition period on TRIPS, which is set to expire in June 2021. The LDCs have made a duly motivated request to extend the transition period, which should be granted for as long as they are LDCs as well as some years beyond.

LDC Extension of the Transition Period on TRIPS

Letter from MEPs Calling on Commission to Support the request of the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) to the WTO TRIPS Council on the LDC transition period. (20 May 2021)

Letter from more than 50 Academics to the USTR and EU Trade Commission in Favor of the LDC’s Request for Extending the Transition Period. (22 April 2021)

Statement from the Electronic Information for Libraries (EIFL), “EIFL calls on the World Trade Organization (WTO) to grant a request by Least Developed Countries (LDCs) to extend the LDC TRIPS exemption. (16 February 2021)

Civil Society Letter from 112 Organizations to Members of the WTO Concerning a Further Extension of the Transition Period for LDCs under article 66.1 of the TRIPS Agreement. (4 February 2021)

TRIPS Waiver Related to Covid-19

The original joint submission from India and South Africa in the WTO. (2 October 2020)

Recent updates

PSI (Public Services International): Waive WTO copyrights on Covid-19 medical products! (31 August 2021)

Why is Merkel damaging Germany’s global reputation — and her legacy — for the sake of pharma profits? (by PSI General Secretary Rosa Pavanelli, 20 July 2021)

Statement by public sector labor unions: EU’s commitment urgently needed on vaccine scale up and TRIPS waiver. (14 July 2021)

Letter from over 200 CSOs from around the world, calling on the European Commission and the EU Member States to reconsider its communications to the TRIPS Council and constructively engage in the text-based negotiations of the TRIPS waiver proposal supported by over 100 WTO members. (English, Spanish, German) (29 June 2021)

US Expresses Support for the TRIPS Waiver. (5 May 2021)

Letter from 110 Members of U.S. Congress to President Biden: Majority of Democratic Caucus call on White House to support TRIPS waiver for global vaccine access. (4 May 2021)

Academics’ letter to the USTR and EU Trade Commissioner: Support Pandemic Recovery for Least Developed Countries. (April 22, 2021)

Joint appeal by 388 members of the European Parliament and of European national parliaments urging the EU and its member states to support a TRIPS waiver. (April 21, 2021)

Former world leaders call on Biden to suspend Covid-19 vaccine patents. (Financial Times, April 15, 2021)

Former heads of state and Nobel laureates call on President Biden to waive intellectual property rules for COVID vaccines. (April 14, 2021)

Large majority of US voters support patent waiver on Covid-19 vaccines (Progressive International, April 15, 2021)

250 civil society organizations from around the world call on WTO Director General to facilitate a waiver on TRIPS to save lives. (April 13, 2021)

How Bill Gates Impeded Global Access to Covid Vaccines: Through his hallowed foundation, the world’s de facto public health czar has been a stalwart defender of monopoly medicine. (April 12, 2021)

Pharma In The White House: Financial Disclosures Reveal Officials' Stake In Vaccine Manufacturers. (Revolving Door Project, March 29, 2021)

More than 50 European MEPs back proposal for TRIPS waiver on vaccines. (Livemint, March 26, 2021)

Over 250 CSOs & researchers join call in support of TRIPS waiver. (TWN News Service, March 24, 2021)

Statements/Letters by international organizations, civil society, academics etc.

Opinion pieces

News Reports from the Third World Network

Previous work

OWINFS has campaigned against the TRIPS agreement’s patent monopolies since our founding. For more on this work before the Covid-19 crisis, please see here.