On 17 June 2022, after nearly one and a half years of intense debate concerning the proposal to waive IP protection in view of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organization adopted a decision on the TRIPS Agreement. It has not waived any intellectual property rights as such but instead mainly clarified the application of the existing TRIPS flexibilities, in particular, regarding compulsory licensing of patents. The Position Statement shows that the Ministerial Decision makes no substantive difference in the existing international legal framework, except for lifting the limitation on the exportation of vaccines manufactured in accordance with the Decision. To the extent that the Decision can make the application of TRIPS flexibilities more expedient, it is to be welcomed. At the same time, it is argued that such facilitating effect should not be limited to, or justified by, the exceptional circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic. More critically, it should not be restricted to COVID-19 vaccines, of which there is currently no shortage – rather, the same level of TRIPS flexibilities should apply to all medicinal products needed to overcome the COVID-19 pandemic.
Also published as: Max Planck Institute for Innovation & Competition Research Paper No. 22-14