TRIPS Flexibilities

Research Paper 158, 15 June 2022

Twenty Years After Doha: An Analysis of the Use of the TRIPS Agreement’s Public Health Flexibilities in India

By Muhammad Zaheer Abbas, PhD  

The World Trade Organization (WTO) linked intellectual property protection with trade. The WTO Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS Agreement), however, included a number of public health flexibilities in order to provide latitude to the Member States to tailor their national patent laws to fit their individual needs. In 2001, the Doha Declaration further clarified and reaffirmed the existing TRIPS flexibilities. This paper argues that India has taken the lead role in enacting the TRIPS Agreement’s substantive and procedural patent flexibilities by introducing unique legislative measures to deal with the problem of access to medicines. This article evaluates India’s use of section 3(d) as a subject matter exclusivity provision. It examines constitutional validity and TRIPS compliance of section 3(d). It also evaluates India’s use of the flexibility to define the term “inventive step”. Moreover, this article evaluates India’s use of compulsory licensing, the most notable exception to patent rights provided under the TRIPS Agreement. This empirical study is important in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has once again highlighted the same public health issues that the Doha Declaration sought to address twenty years ago.

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Policy Brief 110, 5 May 2022

Analysis of the Outcome Text of the Informal Quadrilateral Discussions on the TRIPS COVID-19 Waiver

By Carlos M. Correa and Nirmalya Syam

Almost one  and a half years after the proposal for a waiver of certain provisions of the TRIPS Agreement regarding health technologies for COVID-19 was proposed by India and South Africa with the support of the majority of WTO Members, the TRIPS Council has been unable to reach consensus on the proposed waiver or engage in text negotiations. In this context, the TRIPS Council agreed to suspend the discussions to allow the possibility of some solution to emerge from informal high-level consultations between the European Union, the United States of America, India and South Africa. Recently, the WTO Director-General transmitted the outcome of the informal consultations along with a draft text to the TRIPS Council. In this context, this policy brief analyzes the elements of the draft text that has been transmitted to the TRIPS Council. The proposed solution, which offers clarifications and limited waivers on some of the provisions governing compulsory licenses on patents relating to vaccines, reflects developed countries’ strong opposition to the broader waiver sought by the proponents to rapidly expand manufacturing capacity and the supply of health products needed to address the pandemic.

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Research Paper 146, 16 February 2022

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.

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