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‘No-one is Safe Until Everyone is Safe’ – Patent Waiver, Compulsory Licensing and COVID-19


Behrang Kianzad, Jakob Wested


Recent months have seen intensified global calls for an intellectual property waiver of COVID-19 related vaccines, treatments and related products. Where one side of the debate elevates Intellectual Property Rights as on obstacle to affordable and expeditious global access to vaccines and treatments, the other side of the debate points to the existing TRIPS flexibilities such as compulsory licensing, the necessity of Intellectual Property Rights for future innovation as well as other factors such as manufacturing capacity and know-how being of greater importance. This dualistic approach risk ignoring the manifold law, economics, and policy nuances inherent in the intersection of intellectual property law and Right-to-Health, as well as innovation and health policy. A balanced approach guided by real world indicators regarding law and economics of pharmaceutical innovation, procedural feasibility of compulsory licensing and legal applicability of an IPR waiver is needed. Thus, the key to understanding the current debates lies in a holistic approach to ratio legis of intellectual property rights, innovation policy and health policy. The innovation inducing facets of monopoly rights, and interconnected monopoly profits, need to be balanced against public policy rationales such as Right-to-Health, but also against the ratio legis of IPRs, which focuses on maximizing societal welfare. After the introduction framing the background regarding unequitable global access to COVID-19 vaccines and treatments paving the way to the current debates on patent waiver and compulsory licensing, the Article proceeds as follows. Section II briefly sketches the main contours of the debate on right-to-health and intellectual property rights from a law and policy perspective. Section III details the legal, historical and procedural background of international codification of patents and the compulsory licensing instrument within the TRIPS agreement, as well some instances of compulsory licensing during COVID-19. Section IV recounts the patent waiver proposal at TRIPS Council and the arguments for and against the proposal. Section V concludes with some law and policy reflections on the balance between Right-to-Health, intellectual property rights and innovation policy.

Behrang Kianzad is a Research Fellow at Center for Advanced Studies in Biomedical Innovation Law. Behrang Kianzad´s research has been funded as part of his PhD education by Faculty of Law, Copenhagen University. He declares no conflict of interest.For Correspondence: <>. Jakob Wested, Industrial Post doc, Center for Advanced Studies in Biomedical Innovation Law & Danish Medicines Agency. Jakob Wested’s research is supported by Novo Nordisk Foundation (grant agreement number NNF17SA0027784) and Innovation Fund Denmark. He declares no conflict of interest.


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