COVID Vaccines vs. Patent Rights


A patent is a valuable intellectual property asset that grants an inventor an exclusive monopoly for a set period of time. It gives a legal right to stop others from copying your idea. Process or product patents are the two types of patents available. A product patent protects the rights to the finished product, and anybody other than the patent holder might be barred from producing it for a certain amount of time, even if they employ a different procedure. A process patent allows anybody other than the patent holder to produce the patented product by altering specified manufacturing methods.

For decades, there has been a battle over intellectual property rights and vaccines. However, as the global pandemic of COVID-19 approaches its one-year mark, with a number of new vaccinations now certified for emergency use and millions of people recently vaccinated. A global movement to remove IP protection from COVID-19 vaccines is now underway, with the goal of preparing more makers and addressing vaccination access. Others contend that doing so will constrain future assumptions and impede long-term progress in vaccination, particularly efforts to combat new COVID-19 mutations.[1]


The TRIPS Agreement obligates India, the United States, and New Zealand to enact domestic legislation that maintains minimum standards of intellectual property protection. Because of this legal uniformity, manufacturers can profit from their discovery. 

Vaccine development and production is a multi-step process that includes a complex intellectual property framework. Different types of IP rights apply to different phases, and no single sort of IP can provide the key to vaccine manufacture. A patent protects the notion of important vaccine ingredients as well as the methodology of inducing a biological reaction that generates immunity. Data from clinical trials to test vaccine safety and efficacy may be protected by copyright, and the skill to manufacture it may be protected as a trade secret. As a result, granting patents for manufacturing vaccine alone does not provide any authority to begin vaccine production right to the manufacturers. It’s a long and uncertain procedure that requires manufacturers to clear a number of hurdles. To obtain regulatory permissions, they will need to design the vaccine manufacturing process, collect necessary raw materials, construct production facilities, and conduct clinical trials. There are several processes in the manufacturing process, some of which may be subcontracted to third parties.

This may be why, rather of awarding compulsory licencing for vaccine patents, India and South Africa have requested a waiver of several IP rights on Covid-related innovations. On the other hand, negotiating a TRIPS waiver, can be time-consuming, especially when high-income countries are opposing. Governments must use their status as co-innovators and investors in vaccine development to support voluntary licencing around the world. Encouraging the private sector to freely licence their discoveries would ensure that licensees receive the information they need to make vaccines and that regulatory approvals are processed quickly.


For decades, India’s generics sector has reverse-engineered pharmaceuticals in order to sell less expensive, mass-produced generic equivalents. However, vaccines, particularly those based on the newer mRNA technology, necessitate a greater level of scientific expertise, which is why technology transfer will be critical. Nonetheless, even if WTO exceptions are granted, pharmaceutical corporations may refuse to comply. Experts estimate that with grants, vaccine production will take well over a year to alleviate the existing shortfall.[3] The most effective approach is for patent holders to offer compulsory licences to other companies, Director General of World’s Health Organization says that patent owning businesses will have to acknowledge this as a genuine and immediate issue.


Allu Hari Narayana

Bennett University

[1] Accessed on 09-06-2021

[2] Available at: Accessed on 09-06-2021

[3] Accessed on 11-06-2021

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