A Review of WTO Disputes on TRIPS: Implications for Use of Flexibilities for Public Health
By Nirmalya Syam
The use of TRIPS flexibilities by WTO members involves interpretation of the obligations under TRIPS which can be challenged under the WTO dispute settlement system. Mutually agreed solutions, panel or Appellate Body decisions adopted in such disputes can thus impact the scope of TRIPS flexibilities to address, among others, public health objectives. This paper explores how the WTO dispute settlement system applies to disputes under TRIPS, and reviews the outcomes of the disputes relating to the implementation of TRIPS obligations in the context of pharmaceutical products. The paper points to both systemic and substantive concerns arising from the application of the dispute settlement system to disputes under TRIPS. It finds that the dispute settlement system is not aligned to the unique nature of the TRIPS Agreement in the WTO as an agreement that creates positive obligations, and consequently how jurisprudence arising under disputes concerning other covered agreements having negative obligations, have led panels and Appellate Bodies to adopt narrow interpretations of the scope of TRIPS flexibilities in some of the few disputes arising under the TRIPS Agreement. Moreover, mutually agreed settlements adopted in the context of some of the disputes arising under TRIPS have also led to the adoption of TRIPS plus standards, limiting the scope of TRIPS flexibilities. However, in a recent decision, the WTO panel has also relied on the Doha Declaration on TRIPS and Public Health as a subsequent agreement to guide the interpretation of its provisions. In this context, the paper advances some suggestions to address the systemic and substantive issues arising from the application of the dispute settlement system to the TRIPS Agreement.
Canada’s Political Choices Restrain Vaccine Equity: The Bolivia-Biolyse Case
By Muhammad Zaheer Abbas, PhD
The COVID-19 pandemic has already claimed more than 4.6 million lives and caused significant economic harm. The Coronavirus is still circulating to cause further damage. In this context, this research paper argues that Canada’s political choices have restrained the equitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines. Part I evaluates Canada’s nationalistic approach of procuring COVID-19 vaccines more than its needs through secretly concluded pre-purchase agreements with brand-name pharmaceutical corporations as advised by a secretly born task force having clear ties with the vaccine industry. Part II examines Canada’s wavering and non-committal position on the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) Waiver proposal. Canada’s confusing position of ‘not blocking’ the TRIPS Waiver while not supporting it either lacks legal clarity. Part III analyses the Bolivia-Biolyse case which highlights clear contradictions between statements and actions of the Canadian government. Since March 2021, Biolyse Pharma has been hamstrung by the first step in Canada’s Access to Medicines Regime (CAMR), where a preliminary requirement is that the COVID-19 vaccine must be added to Schedule 1 of the Canadian federal Patent Act before applying for an export-oriented compulsory licence. The Bolivia-Biolyse case is important as a test case for the CAMR system. Workability of this export-oriented compulsory licensing regime is critical for low- and middle-income countries in the Global South lacking the domestic capacity to manufacture COVID-19 vaccines. The Bolivia-Biolyse case is also important as Canada has argued at the World Trade Organization (WTO) that the TRIPS Waiver is not required because the existing mechanisms are working as intended.
TRIPS Flexibilities on Patent Enforcement: Lessons from Some Developed Countries Relating to Pharmaceutical Patent Protection
By Joshua D. Sarnoff
Authority for national judiciaries to issue permanent and preliminary injunctions is required by the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), Articles 44 and 50. But the TRIPS Agreement does not require the issuance of injunctions in any particular circumstances, and does not harmonize the laws on which national jurisdictions derive their injunctive relief authorities. Thus, countries remain free to refuse prohibitory injunctive relief for adjudicated or likely patent infringement, particularly if “reasonable compensation” is offered in the form of an “ongoing royalty” or an “interim royalty” payment, which acts similarly to a compulsory license. This paper explains the existing legal standards for permanent and preliminary injunctions in the United States and Canada and discusses trends regarding the issuance or denial of injunctions for pharmaceutical patents in those jurisdictions (with occasional reference to other common-law jurisdictions). Although judges in these jurisdictions more routinely deny preliminary prohibitory injunctions, legislation linking generic pharmaceutical regulatory approvals to the patent system and imposing stays of such approvals normally avoid the need for such preliminary injunctions. Consistent with the TRIPS Agreement, developing country judges may make different choices, based on the ability to provide reasonable compensation for harms or based on a different weighing of the importance of assuring affordable access to medicines relative to providing innovation incentives.
Public Health and Plain Packaging of Tobacco: An Intellectual Property Perspective
By Thamara Romero
In 2018, a World Trade Organization (WTO) Panel ruled that plain packaging of tobacco products was consistent with Australia’s obligations under the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) and was in the interest of public health. Plain packaging restricts the use of logos, colours and brand images to reduce the demand for and consumption of tobacco products by diminishing their advertising appeal. This paper discusses the intellectual property aspects triggered by the implementation of plain packaging, examines the best practices for its implementation and provides analysis of Australia’s case from the public health perspective. It also highlights the main arguments used in the dispute against Australia and provides practical guidance for WTO Members on implementing measures to protect public health.