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Technology Transfer for Covid Vaccines: Need of Hour

Admin June 15, 2021

The patent-holding companies must transfer their technology without any delay, and governments of industrialised countries must legislate necessary laws to ensure their technology transfer and supply of ingredients. — Prof. Bhagwati Prakash Sharma

 

Covid-19 vaccines are the only effective remedy to relieve global mankind from the strife of Corona. But, these vaccines are in extreme short supply. Almost 80% of the vaccines produced so far have been used by the industrialised countries. In India as well only 21.83 crore vaccinations have been done so far. We need 200 crore plus shots. So, vaccine production need to be augmented. First step in this direction is freeing of these vaccines from patents and that needs to be followed by transfer of their technology to all capable manufacturers worldwide.  

Patents free Vaccines with Technology Transfer: Need of Hour

Transfer of technology to enable greater number of manufacturers is need of the hour to augment the supply of vaccines. According to a report of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) with respect to the components and inputs required for the manufacture of Covid-19 vaccines, “an average antibody-producing plant will use in the area of 9,000 distinct materials from exactly 300 providers across roughly 30 unique nations”. For instance, a Mumbai based ‘VAV Lifesciences’ is the supplier of phospholipids, a crucial ingredient in the mRNA – based Covid-19 vaccines. So, it is well apparent that besides freeing of vaccines and medicines from patents freeing of all the downstream value-chain of ingredients is equally important. Moreover, mere freeing of all the vaccines and the ingredients from patents would not be enough, unless the transfer of technology to manufacture these vaccines, including their components ingredients and their raw materials and skills is made mandatory. Transfer of technology is the integral object of the agreement on TRIPS of the WTO-vide its clause 7, 8 and 66.2. 

Compulsory License Van be of No Avail: 

Certain sections, with an intent to blame the government baselessly may continue to demand the the issue of compulsory license for Covid drugs and vaccines. But, such a demand of issuing of compulsory license can be of no avail, as there is no single applicant desirous to seek compulsory license. Under section 84, compulsory license can be issued to a manufacturer, who applies and has the ability to manufacture it. It cannot be issued hypothetically to a fictitious entity. Besides, a compulsory license can be issued for patents granted in India. 

The Pfizer, Moderna and the Johnson & Johnson have yet not applied far for a patent in India for their vaccines, as they have applied for a patent only under the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT). They may apply in any PCT signatory country in 30 months. Therefore it is altogether irrelevant to talk for the issue of compulsory license for those vaccines, which do not have a patent registered in India. Moreover, the promulgation of any orders under sections 92 and 100 for drugs, are also of no avail, as no pharma company has applied for a compulsory license to manufacture the medicines except the Natco Pharma which has already got a voluntary license to manufacture the same from Eli Lilly of US, which had the patent for Baricitinib. When there is no application pending for compulsory license. It cannot be issued hypothetically to fictitious entity. 

The author too had earlier asserted for the grant of compulsory license, prior to May, 2021, until the grant of voluntary licenses for the manufacture of Remdesivir, Baricitinib etc. in India. Now when, voluntary license to more than 7 companies for Remdesivir and 2 companies, including the Natco Pharma for Baricitinib have been granted, there is of no pending application for compulsory license. The voluntary license holders from India have even been exporting Remdesivir to 127 countries. The issue of compulsory license for drugs has therefore no relevance as on date, as no application for compulsory license is lying to be disposed off. For the vaccines, the Bharat Bio-tech is open to the grant of voluntary licenses and has already granted 3 voluntary licenses. Rather, 11 more are in pipeline. The Oxford- Astrazeneca too has granted voluntary license for covishield long back. 

Technology Transfer Needed Urgently 

As there are not applicants desirous to avail compulsory license facility, it cannot be granted in air to a mere fictitious entity, by the government. No doubt, as a political agenda against the government, it may suit to certain quarters and they may continue to raise their demand for issue of compulsory license. But, compulsory license ñannot  be granted to a fictitious person or company, unless there is an applicant. To the contrary, a demand needs to be raised before the WTO to invoke the clauses 7, 8 and 66 for mandating technology transfer and the industrialised Country governments should be asked to enact laws to make it necessary for every one of the 300 plus entities possessing technology for Covid-19 Vaccines, drugs and their ingredients to transfer the know-how to every capable and desirous manufacturer, within and outside their respective countries. In this regard the provisions of technology transfer of the the agreement on “Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS)” of the WTO are worth mention here. 

Technology Transfer Related Provisions of Agreement on TRIPS

Article 7 of the TRIPS Agreement of WTO states:”the protection and enforcement of intellectual property rights should contribute to the promotion of technological innovation and to the transfer and dissemination of technology to the mutual advantage of producers and users of technological knowledge and in a manner conducive to social and economic welfare, and to a balance of rights and obligations.”

Article 8.2 states: “Appropriate measures, provided they are consistent with the provisions of the Agreement, may be needed to prevent the abuse of intellectual property rights by right holders or the resort to practices which unreasonably restrain trade or adversely affect the international transfer of technology.”

Likewise, the provisions for technology transfer are more explicit and assertive under the Article 66.2. The obligation for developed countries to provide incentives for technology transfer in Article 66.2 are also mandatory. 

Urgency of Universal Access Vaccines and Drugs via Patent Waiver and Technology Transfer:

More than 17.5 crore persons worldwide and more than 2.85 crore in India have experienced unprecedented strife and trauma after having got infected from Corona in last one year. More than 37 lac persons across the world and 3.4 lacs in India have succumbed to untimely death from Covid-19. More than ten times of this number are suffering from post corona complications. Rest of the population is also scared of the fear of being infected from Covid-19. Therefore, to treat the infected patients and to prevent infection from Covid-19, universal access to vaccines and medicines is most essential. Today in Israel, US, UK, Bhutan and Norway etc. the new infections and death rate from Corona is under control, where majority of the adult population has been vaccinated. 

Treatment of Covid infected patients and the protection of entire population at home and worldwide is possible by easy and affordable access to the vaccines and medicines for all in the world. In the wake of inhumane patents regime where the supply of these vaccines and medicines is very meagre and prices are exorbitant due to monopoly of few companies, based on their patents. For relieving the 786 crore people from the fear of corona infection, freeing of the vaccines, medicines, along with the ingredients used in their manufacture from patents. Transfer of their production technology to all capable and desirous manufacturers and adequate supply of ingredients for the manufacture of these is essential.

Commendable Feat of the Government of India in WTO

The Government of India in its pursuit to get these Covid-19 Vaccines and medicines free from patents has moved as early as in October 2020 in the world Trade Organisations India has secured an unprecedented victory in the General Council of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) on May 5, 2021, when the US, European nations and Japan agreed to fall in line and seconded India’s proposal to waive patents from over the Covid-19 vaccines, after fiercely resisting in 10 consecutive meetings held in last six months. It is a victory for global mankind to pave way for augmenting supply of covid vaccines. 

The US, EU, Japan, Switzerland and Norway after much reluctance had ultimately agreed to support the joint proposal of India and South Africa which was duly supported by 120 other WTO members. Moreover, 110 senators of the President Joe Biden’s Democratic Party 60 former Heads of States and 100 Nobel Laurettes from across the world have put pressure upon Biden-Harries administration. An online petition has also been duly signed by 2 Million signatories. 

With the support of global community India has seecured an unprecedented victory in the General Council of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) on May 5, 2021, when the US, some European nations and Japan agreed to fall in line with India and seconded India’s proposal to waive patents from over the Covid-19 vaccines, after fiercely resisting in vain in 10 consecutive meetings of WTO, held in last six months. It is a victory for global mankind to pave way for augmenting supply of covid vaccines. The US, EU, Japan, Switzerland and Norway after much reluctance had ultimately agreed to support the joint proposal of India and South Africa which was duly supported by 120 other WTO members. Moreover, 110 senators of the President Joe Biden’s Democratic Party, 60 former Heads of States and 100 Nobel Laurettes from across the world have put pressure upon Biden – Harris administration. An online petition duly signed by 2 million signatories from across the world was also moved.

UAVM: A Potent Tool 

The Swadeshi Jagaran Manch has also launched a worldwide campaign from India, entitled “Universal Access to Vaccines and Medicines”, the UAVM for making these vaccines and medicines accessible and affordable for everyone. Under this campaign securing of online signatures, national and international conferences, demonstrations, other programs of mass awakening, press conferences and distribution of literature and similar other programs are being conducted.

The exemption of patents from these vaccines, medicines and their ingredients is essentially the first step. But, besides making them patent free, transfer of technology also needs to be made mandatory for the patent holders under TRIPS followed by enactment of laws. The patent-holding companies must also ensure uninhibited supply of these vaccines and drugs along with the materials used in them, with absolute neutrality of benefits and must transfer the technology without royalty to all the capable and desirous manufacturers. The patent-holding companies must transfer their technology without any delay, and governments of industrialised countries must legislate necessary laws to ensure their technology transfer and supply of ingredients.      

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