The Covid pandemic has energised opponents of the WTO TRIPS Agreement, who have long wished to weaken permanently intellectual property (IP) rules.
But opposition to TRIPS ignores the huge benefits brought to WTO members by enabling increased participation in the global economy and facilitating access to new technologies – not least the creation and production of innovative Covid vaccines and therapeutics in record time.
Meanwhile, the IP flexibilities reaffirmed by the Doha Declaration, signed 20 years ago this month, have proven an effective public health safeguard. In fact, such flexibilities have rarely been invoked due to the success of various mechanisms that deliver innovative medicines to low and middle-income countries within the existing TRIPS IP framework, including voluntary licenses and initiatives such as the Medicines Patent Pool.
As WTO members gather in Geneva for their 12th Ministerial Conference, it’s time to reject shop-worn criticism of TRIPS and IP, and recognise instead their tremendous contribution to global health progress.