Balades en expertise :
Pandemics and Intellectual Property

Actu Anglais mars 2022

Pandemics and Intellectual Property... décrypté par Jean-François Allafort, co-auteur des FichesDCG UE12 Anglais des affaires, collection « Expert Sup », Dunod, et présenté par Ian Waddelow

#Covid19 #Vaccines#Pandemic #Patents #Intellectualproperty#BigPharma#WHO#R&D

Why Do Pandemics and Intellectual Property don’t Mix – Script

Welcome to the series of DUNOD podcasts designed to help improve your English in your own time on topics related to your studies.

The Covid-19 pandemic has been affecting the world for two years now. It is far from over even though there are encouraging signs. We see the light at the end of the tunnel thanks to the rapid rollout of vaccines but the majority of vaccine doses have been produced in rich countries for rich countries. Their populations have been vaccinated in their vast majority – around 75% of the population received doses within the G7 and European Union.

The large research pharmaceutical companies – Big Pharma – have invested many billions of dollars in research and development. They have also protected and patented their innovations.

The economic argument for IP protection seems rather convincing. Innovation is costly and risky. Pharmaceutical companies invest heavily in drug development with no guarantee of success. If other firms could freely copy a newly discovered treatment, then its price would quickly fall. A short-term monopoly on production is needed to make those investments economically worthwhile. Patents provide this protection.

However, most of the world isn’t so lucky. The virus is still raging in a number of countries. Billions are waiting to be vaccinated because they live in a country that cannot pay the massive price the pharma companies are demanding for their drugs.

India is still battling against a rampant Covid – even though they can find billions for space race and nuclear weapons. India has pharmaceutical know-how and capacity but the manufacture of cheaper, generic copies would be in breach of international intellectual-property law – and the big pharma companies can afford to protect their patents, fighting in the courts for years.

So what are the solutions ?

Massive vaccination seems to be one of the most efficient solutions, but there are issues. The main one is Intellectual Property.
One answer might be to change the law. This lacks global support even though it is a global crisis - and altering international law is not a quick process.

The inequitable distribution reflects, quite simply, speed and money.

"The fundamental problem is that the high-income countries have put themselves at the front of the queue," says Ellen ’t Hoen, a Dutch expert in medicines and intellectual property law.

In protest against the vaccine shortage, developing countries and their NGO allies are making this a drugs patent issue at the World Trade Organization.

An unexpected reversal by the United States could change this. “Extraordinary circumstances call for extraordinary measures”.

The United States is backing a plan to suspend intellectual property protections for vaccines – to the dismay of the big pharma firms that it has long protected. The head of the World Health Organization, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, rightly described this as a monumental moment in the fight against Covid.

The case for a waiver on vaccines, treatments and diagnostics has been building since South Africa and India proposed it last October. Wealthier nations, with pharmaceutical interests, have opposed it. But the glaring inequity of vaccine distribution is increasingly evident. So are its consequences.


Producing vaccines is extraordinarily complex, much more so than manufacturing generic medication. A huge amount of knowhow and enormous investment are involved, as well as production conditions of a sufficiently high standard.

So who matters the most ? Rich shareholders in developed nations or the suffering of the less privileged, many of whom may die ?

We have created vaccine billionaires, yet cannot vaccinate billions. The virus is still raging and this is almost certainly not the last pandemic we will face.