Intellectual property delivers access to today’s medicines and investment into tomorrow’s cures

- European Federation of Pharmaceuticals Industries and Associations (EFPIA)


The outbreak of the pandemic proved to be a black swan event, challenging health systems across the globe. Global health holds an immaculate multifaceted nature as illustrated by the Lancet publication in 2009. According to the World Economic Forum’s Strategic Intelligence, the dynamics of Global Health involve numerous interconnected factors such as governance, shifting demographics, data collection, environmental health, sustainable development and universal coverage, pandemic preparedness, and the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

According to the World Intellectual Property Review, the intellectual property sector has been adversely affected by the ongoing pandemic, which has also been viewed as a catalyst to innovation as identified in the Global Innovation Index (GII) 2020 published by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), Cornell University and INSEAD.

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO Director-General addressed the need for removing accessibility hindrances, which include unaffordable prices, and intellectual property barriers. In the absence of Intellectual Property Rights, numerous debilitating consequences would occur which include uncertainty in research and increased costs demanded by private entities as reported by IP Watchdog in “The future of Global Health depends on strong IPRs.”

Janssen, the pharmaceutical companies of Johnson & Johnson rightly draws attention in its statement on how Intellectual Property is at the heart of health systems as it helps sustain research and development.. In the current global healthcare regime, the major contemporary aspects to consider include how Intellectual Property Law is seen as a critical asset linking patents and public health, helping to combat counterfeit medicines, and harnessing patient safety, compulsory licensing, sharing of intellectual property rights, and IP exclusivity. In India, the need for an IP policy to tackle stockpile issues was rampant due to the pandemic, and it called for effective strategies strengthening intellectual property legal framework

It is highly imperative to ensure the current medical and technological armamentarium are equipped to be at the forefront in tackling global healthcare challenges like the COVID-19 crisis.The contemporary measures taken include calling for Intellectual Property Offices to adapt to the abrupt shift and acclimatize strategies in accordance with the changes brought by the pandemic has become a crucial step. Even in the policymaking forefront, multifarious legal implications, legal policies and critical analysis, for instance, the latest Stanford Lawyer Magazine, Fall 2020-Issue 103 published on 4 January 2021, focuses the cover story on Fighting COVID-19.

The present intellectual property system aims at efficient vaccine development and its equal distribution. Recent updates on price reduction of rapid COVID-19 tests in low-income and middle-income countries are globally welcomed initiatives in healthcare.

The article aims to highlight the recent developmental measures seen in the intellectual property regime in promoting global healthcare, particularly in light of the changes brought by the ongoing pandemic.

Contemporary Global Contours: an outline of recent measures taken

1) The Trilateral Stint: As a response to the unprecedented challenges seen in the erstwhile year, the World Health Organization (WHO), World Trade Organization (WTO), and World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) collaborated on the publication, ‘Promoting Access to Medical Technology and Innovation: Intersections between public health, intellectual property, and trade (Second edition)’. This holistic effort deals with intricacies in global healthcare, efficaciously in Healthcare, Millennium Development Goals and the SARS-CoV-2 virus crisis response. The triumvirate organizations embark on a unified vision, portraying numerous measures to tackle global healthcare challenges. With the outbreak of COVID-19, the policy spectrum faces challenges in the fields of monitoring and containment of the virus spread, mobilization of resources, implementation of the efficient healthcare system, availability of equipment, manufacture development and accessibility.

2) The WHO Solidarity Call: The World Health Organization aims for transparency in R&D by providing information to enhance accessibility and accuracy through this initiative.

3) R&D Blueprint: With the aim of facilitating research and development, the World Health Organization has established the R&D Blueprint. Unidentified priority diseases list is set up in the blueprint. Furthermore, it becomes a guide to foster global response to any future disease outbreaks.

4) COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator: This recent initiative has been a breakthrough to accelerate advancement and equitable accessibility to vaccination. Launched last April, the COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator is made possible with the consistent efforts of World Health Organization (WHO) and, World Bank, and few of the renowned global stakeholders such as Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Global Fund, UNITAD, CEPI, FIND, Gavi, and Wellcome, involved in global collaboration.

5) PATENTSCOPE Database: On 21 April 2020, the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) launched the search initiative to support COVID-19 efforts enabling the detection, prevention, and treatment of diseases. The search facility of PATENTSCOPE provides a curated resource of over 83 million patent documents which can be easily accessed by the stakeholders of public health. The WIPO Director General, Francis Gurry refers to PATENTSCOPE COVID-19 INDEX, as a ‘rich source of technological know-how’.

6) The COVID-19 IP Policy Tracker: Here, the role of intellectual property offices in disseminating information to ease the burden on patent applicants is fundamental during the pandemic. Though an exhaustive list is not provided by the COVID-19 IP Policy Tracker, information regarding the national and regional IP offices, legislative and regulatory measures and voluntary measures are well-detailed in the database.

7) COVID BOX: Being committed to Open Science and to accelerate open research during the pandemic, the initiative of COVID-19 BOX has been monitored by the Medicines for Malaria Venture (MMV) Team and is made available to the public domain. MMV Team aims to stimulate research facilities and foster pandemic preparedness.

8) Open Covid Pledge: To enable information regarding essential patents and copyrights freely available, the Open Covid Pledge, led by Creative Commons, calls forth all organizations around the world to respond to the urgent health crisis. With the help of a semantic Artificial Intelligence tool, patents can be explored on the website. Regarding the Intellectual Property parlance, examples of featured patent information include such as combating COVID-19 misinformation in Facebook, ProBuccal-Covinhood™ oral bioaerosol shield for dental patients, Sandia-Face shield designs, and NASA-JPL-3D Respirators.

Existing Challenges

One of the notable takeaways from the International Symposium was that bridging the gap between industrialized and developing countries exists as a challenge, but pertains high call to answer the necessity. With respect to the pandemic-patenting paradigm, patent protection challenges and IP hoarding, innovation system based on prizes by delinking the R&D costs are widely observed. The delinking measures, ‘in replacing the patent system with government-managed prizes’, has received backlash on its inefficiency in attaining innovation in global healthcare as reported by IP Watchdog.

Novel measures like the Right to Health Capacity Fund (R2HF) needs to be considered and analyzed for further scope and possible solutions. The role of Intellectual Property Law in imparting Global Healthcare is pivotal, but several instances can be seen when intellectual property rights pose to be a barrier in a situation of public health emergency where spontaneous action is required. A dilemma occurs for policymakers when vaccine waivers are unproductive. A wide array of challenges exists as seen in the evaluation of Covid-19 vaccine contracts and vaccine development challenges include ownership issues in intellectual property, patent protection and free trade.


Global IP measures like PATENTSCOPE Database, COVID-19 IP Policy Tracker, Open Covid Pledge, are key endeavors that have been achieved by global pioneer organizations so far. The scope of Intellectual Property Rights can be broadened to ensure equitable access and affordable prices for medicines. The dire need for catering to the low-income and middle-income counties for Covid-19 vaccines remains a valid issue to be resolved through effective intellectual property regulations. The power of the collective effort holds pristine value and Global Health Law can facilitate universal access to vaccination. A synchronized international collaboration is vital alongside necessitating strategic and systematic approaches to ensure global healthcare and accessibility. Presently, attempts to encounter the challenges to global healthcare challenges are seen on the rise, but unfortunately, the bigger picture is tainted by existing challenges, the inadequacy exists in the execution of pro-active measures and assurance of policy implementation.

Title Image Source: The BMJ

This article has been written by Brincy James George. Brincy is a student of law (Class of 2020) at NUALS, Kochi.