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COVID-19 Pandemic

The epidemic of COVID-19 has been an enormous strain on the world’s healthcare infrastructure. Creating effective vaccinations against the virus is essential to dealing with this outbreak. Provisions for compulsory patent waivers and compulsory licensing have been created via the World Trade Organization (WTO) and Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) to solve the worldwide shortage of these vaccines and assure their equitable distribution. Whether patent waivers are warranted in this instance must consider the possible ramifications for intellectual property protection and fostering innovation, despite the fact that they may boost the worldwide availability of vaccinations against COVID.

Circumstances Under Which Such Waivers may be Permitted

The conditions under which compulsive patent waivers and compulsive licensing may be allowed are outlined in the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS). To safeguard public health and avoid patent system abuse, the TRIPS Agreement allows for compulsory patent waivers and compulsory licensing (Article 31) (World Trade Organization, n.d.). To rephrase, where it is judged essential to safeguard public health and/or when the patent holder abuses the patent system, the WTO and TRIPS provide compulsory patent waivers and forced licensing (Lee et al., 2021).

It is essential to consider both the characteristics of the pandemic and the steps taken by patent holders to establish whether the necessary conditions have been satisfied in the context of the present COVID-19 epidemic. With nearly three million fatalities and tens of millions more illnesses, the COVID-19 pandemic is a severe health disaster that has spread to almost every nation on earth (Mercurio, 2021). In addition to severely affecting public health, the pandemic has produced an unparalleled disruption in the world economy. Several nations have responded to this disaster by developing vaccinations, among other public health safeguards.

In order for there to be a forced patent waiver or compelled licensing, the patent holder must first agree to the waiver. Article 31 of the TRIPS Agreement states, “The appropriate authorities may issue a compelled license without the approval of the patent owner ” (Bacchus, 2022). On the other hand, “the patent owner shall be provided suitable money in the circumstances of each occasion, taking into account the economic value of the authorization.” Consequently, the patent holder must agree to the waiver and be compensated for any financial losses that may occur.

The second necessary condition for obtaining a forced patent waiver or compulsory licensing is for the patent holder to provide evidence that the innovation is not being used to the extent it is capable of. According to Article 31B of the TRIPS Agreement, “the patent owner must be obliged to establish that the invention is not being developed on a commercial scale and to the extent that serves the legitimate demands of the public in the territory of the Member in issue” (Bacchus, 2022). This means that the patent holder must show that the innovation is not being used to its full potential and that the public would benefit by having access to the invention if a forced patent waiver or compulsory license were granted.

Third, to get a compulsory license or patent waiver, the patent holder must demonstrate that they have the financial resources to advance the invention’s development. “The patent owner shall be compelled to devote adequate resources to develop the invention,” as stated in Article 31C of the TRIPS Agreement (Solovy, 2022). Provisions of resources, such as employees and tools, may be required. So, the person holding the patent will require a significant financial safety net to continue developing and releasing the idea to the public.

Fourth, the patent holder must demonstrate that the invention is not being used in an anti-competitive manner in order to get a compulsory patent waiver or compulsory licensing. “The patent owner must be expected to prove that the innovation is not being used for anti-competitive motives,” reads the condition that may be found in Article 31D of the TRIPS Agreement. This implies that whoever has the patent must provide evidence that it is not being utilized in a manner that harms consumers or commerce (Zaman, 2022).

Fifth, for the government to approve a patent waiver or license, the patent holder must demonstrate that the invention is not being used to block or delay the introduction of a new product or technique. This evidence is required for any patent compulsory licensing or waiver. Article 31E of the TRIPS Agreement states that “the patent owner shall be expected to prove that the innovation is not being exploited to obstruct or delay the introduction of a new product or technology” (Mercurio, 2021). This implies that whoever has the patent has the burden of proof that it is not being used to prevent the introduction of a new product or technology that would benefit the public.

The sixth and final criterion for a forced patent waiver or compelled license is proof that the invention is not being exploited to inhibit the development of relevant technology. In order to avoid having their patents invalidated, patent holders must prove, under Article 31F of the TRIPS Agreement, that their innovations are not being used to stymie the creation of more advanced technologies (Lee et al., 2021). As this is the case, whoever holds the patent must demonstrate that their innovation is not being used in a way that would prevent the development of a related technology that might be used in conjunction with the invention for the greater good.

Given the characteristics of the continuing COVID-19 pandemic and the steps taken by patent holders, it is abundantly evident that the conditions outlined in the WTO and TRIPS agreements have been satisfied. Blocking efforts to utilize the patent system to limit people’s access to vaccinations is necessary for preserving public health and is crucial if we want to keep people healthy (Gurgula, 2021). In order to prevent misuse, immunizations must be kept secure. In order to guarantee that everyone who needs the vaccinations may get them, obligatory patent waivers and compulsory licensing should be provided.

An argument for the Case for Patent Waivers in the Fight Against COVID-19

Patent waivers may be an essential strategy for increasing the worldwide availability of vaccinations that combat COVID, particularly in nations that lack the resources and competence to research and manufacture such vaccines. This is especially true in nations like these. The Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) agreement and the World Trade Organization (WTO) allow for the use of compulsory patent waivers, which might be used to make vaccines more widely accessible, which would serve to safeguard public health and save lives (Lee et al., 2021). Patent waivers allow nations to make vaccines domestically by giving access to patented technology, increasing the global supply, and reducing the cost of vaccines. This is made possible by granting access to patented technologies.

The COVID-19 epidemic presents a once-in-a-lifetime chance to leverage patent waivers due to the critical need for a vaccine. This is because the epidemic has highlighted the need for a global response and increased technological access (Yu, 2021). This is especially important for countries needing more infrastructure and expertise to produce vaccinations. Using patent waivers to help make life-saving vaccines available to everybody may help to reduce the current access gap to these technologies.

To fully grasp the arguments in support of patent waivers, it is necessary to have a firm grasp of the fundamentals of patent protection and the repercussions of the World Trade Organization and the TRIPS agreement. When an idea is patented, the inventor has the exclusive right to make, sell, and otherwise exploit the invention for a certain period of time (Solovy, 2022). This benefit is limited to the territory where the patent was first granted. As a result of this safeguarding, creators may continue to make a living off their innovations while knowing that their investments are secure. Countries cannot use forced licensing to the WTO and TRIPS agreement, which further protects patents. Overriding patent protection and enabling a third party to create and sell the patented product without the inventor’s approval is the practice of compulsory licensing. According to the WTO and TRIPS agreements, this is strictly forbidden.

Notwithstanding the fact that patent protection offers some level of protection, the WTO and the TRIPS agreement both permit the use of compulsory patent waivers under specific conditions. The World Trade Organization allows for such exclusions where “there is an urgent need to preserve public health” or “a need to utilize the patent to react to a national disaster or other scenarios of exceptional urgency.” If one of these things happens, it is because of an immediate need (Gurgula, 2021). In the past, this exemption has been used to increase access to pharmaceuticals and medical advancements; now, it might facilitate a more comprehensive distribution of immunizations against COVID.

The use of patent waivers may have a substantial influence on the availability of vaccinations on a worldwide scale. Patent waivers may make it possible for nations to manufacture the vaccines domestically by granting access to the patented technology, considerably increasing the global supply and lowering the cost of the vaccines (Mercurio, 2021). Patent waivers can also decrease the overall cost of vaccines. This may assist in guaranteeing that the vaccinations are accessible to those who need them the most, irrespective of their physical location or socioeconomic standing. The burden of importing vaccinations from other countries, which may be expensive and difficult to arrange, may also be alleviated as a result of this measure, which is another advantage.

Waivers on vaccine patents are one option for guaranteeing safe and effective production. It will be simpler to ensure that all of the necessary safety and quality standards are met throughout the manufacturing process if individual countries are given the freedom to produce their own vaccines (Solovy, 2022). When vaccinations are in great demand, it is essential that they be manufactured quickly and cheaply, and allowing countries to manufacture them themselves may help ensure this. By enabling individual nations to manufacture their own vaccinations, this goal is within reach.

The employment of patent waivers is one method that may help safeguard the financial interests of the inventors. Although patent waivers might cause a drop in income for innovators, it is equally important to remember that they can work as an incentive for creative problem-solving (Zaman, 2022). Oftentimes, inventors get repaid for their labor via the sale of vaccines; however, using patent waivers may assist in guaranteeing that inventors are reimbursed appropriately for their contribution to the creation of the vaccine.

The employment of policies like mandatory patent waivers and mandatory licensing is crucial to the process of providing global access to new medicinal products during public health crises. These methods have been used increasingly often to facilitate the manufacture and delivery of vaccines during the current COVID-19 pandemic. Nonetheless, legitimate concerns exist regarding the effects on inventive activity and patent protection. Countries have the option of requiring their people to give up their patent rights or get licenses from both the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) (Yu, 2021). These laws provide governments the option to get around patent protection when doing so is absolutely necessary to safeguard the public’s health. Mandatory patent waivers allow for a complete exclusion from the security provided by a patent. Without the patent holder’s consent, generic versions of protected items may be produced and marketed because of this exception. Under the provisions of a forced license, a third party may be given a license to develop the patented product; nevertheless, the patent holder is still entitled to a reasonable royalty payment for their efforts (World Trade Organization, n.d.). Several conditions outlined by the WTO and TRIPS must be met before any of these actions go into effect. These prerequisites include finding a public health emergency, a lack of affordable access to the patented product, and using the waiver or license for public non-commercial usage.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, compulsory patent waivers and licensing have never been used before to stimulate vaccination development and distribution. Because of the pandemic’s extraordinary increase in vaccine demand, several actions were taken (Lee et al., 2021). A waiver issued by the World Trade Organization (WTO) in October 2020 permits countries to go around the COVID-19 vaccines’ patent protections. This waiver aims to allay availability and cost issues while facilitating the production and distribution of generic versions of the immunizations. Moreover, the waiver allows countries to temporarily halt the enforcement of intellectual property rights about trade secrets and other types of intellectual property that could impede the creation of generic COVID-19 vaccines (World Trade Organization, n.d.).

The use of mandatory patent waivers and forced licensing during the COVID-19 epidemic has the potential to significantly affect the preservation of innovation. Since they provide exclusions from the protection provided by patents, these policies fundamentally reduce the value of patents and undercut the incentives for innovation and financial investment in research and development (Zaman, 2022). Future medical treatments and technological advancement may suffer since fewer companies and investors are likely to spend money on R&D if there is a chance that generic manufacturers may readily replicate their ideas. Future medical treatments and technological advancements may suffer as a result, too.

Obligatory patent releases and licensing obligations may harm trade secrets’ security. In this context, mandatory patent releases provide significant difficulties. Even though the WTO waiver does not explicitly address trade secrets, it does provide member countries the option to postpone the enforcement of any trade secrets that could impede the production of COVID-19 vaccines on a generic basis (Bacchus, 2022). Competitors could then obtain the trade secrets of businesses that have invested much money in creating their vaccines. These rivals may then create generic copies of the vaccinations using the trade secrets. Trade secrets may end up being exposed as a result of this. As a result, firms may become less inclined to engage in research and development since they may be reluctant to do so if their trade secrets cannot be protected. This can cause the amount of money spent on research and development to decline.

Implementing mandatory patent waivers and coerced licensing may have a good influence, even while the COVID-19 epidemic may harm the innovative process. If these steps are adopted, public health may gain expanded access to cutting-edge medical treatments (Lee et al., 2021). Generic versions of vaccinations currently on the market would be created to do this. Funding for scientific research may thus increase as a consequence. Companies could be more inclined to invest in cutting-edge innovation if they are confident that their work will be shielded against cheap imitations. Moreover, the WTO waiver provides compensation for patent owners, which may assist in offsetting any losses incurred due to less patent protection.


Compulsory licensing and patent waivers are practical tools for protecting the public’s health and ensuring access to life-saving therapies like vaccinations. Both the TRIPS Agreement and the WTO permit the use of these exemptions and licenses in certain situations. These requirements must be satisfied for a patent waiver or license to be granted, and they must be carefully examined to ensure that they are being used in a way that is advantageous to the preservation of innovation and not hazardous to public health. Patent waivers and compulsory licensing may assist in safeguarding the public’s health by increasing access to necessary therapies while simultaneously ensuring the financial stability of innovators.


Bacchus, J. (2022). An Unnecessary Proposal: A WTO Waiver of Intellectual Property Rights for COVID-19 Vaccines. Retrieved March 23, 2023, from

Gurgula, O. (2021). Compulsory licensing vs. the IP waiver: what is the best way to end the COVID-19 pandemic? Policy brief, p. 104.

Lee, T., Tom LeeData and Policy AnalystTom Lee is a Data and Policy Analyst at the American Action Forum. Christopher HoltVice President of Policy at the Alliance for Health PolicyChristopher Holt is the Vice President of Policy at the Alliance for Health Policy. , Tom LeeData and Policy AnalystTom Lee is a Data and Policy Analyst at the American Action Forum., Christopher HoltVice President of Policy at the Alliance for Health PolicyChristopher Holt is the Vice President of Policy at the Alliance for Health Policy. He previously served as Director of Health Care Policy at the American Action Forum., Holt, C., & Biden Sides with Progressives in Fight Against Intellectual PropertyChristopher Holt. (2021, May 10). Intellectual property, covid-19 vaccines, and the proposed trips waiver. AAF. Retrieved March 23, 2023, from

Mercurio, B. (2021, February 12). WTO Waiver from Intellectual Property Protection for COVID-19 Vaccines and Treatments: A Critical Review.

Solovy, E. (2022). The TRIPS Waiver for COVID-19 Vaccines, and Its Potential Expansion: Assessing the Impact on Global IP Protection and Public Health CENTER FOR INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY x INNOVATION POLICY.

World Health Organization. (2002). Implications of the Doha Declaration on the TRIPS Agreement and public health (No. WHO/EDM/PAR/2002.3). World Health Organization.

World Trade Organization. (n.d.). Control of Anti-Competitive Practices in Contractual Licences PART III ENFORCEMENT OF INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY RIGHTS 1. General Obligations 2. Civil and Administrative Procedures and Remedies 3. Provisional Measures 4. Special Requirements Related to Border.

Yu, P. K. (2021, October 19). A Critical Appraisal of the COVID-19 TRIPS Waiver.

Zaman, K. (2022). The Waiver of Certain Intellectual Property Rights Provisions of the TRIPS for the Prevention, Containment and Treatment of COVID-19: A Review of the Proposal under WTO Jurisprudence. European Journal of Risk Regulation, pp. 1–19.


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