Biden’s patent gift in Beijing

The ambassadors discuss before the opening ceremony of the 12th Ministerial Conference at the headquarters of the World Trade Organization in Geneva on 12 June.


Martial Trezzini / Agence France-Presse / Getty Images

The World Trade Organization was created to protect free trade rules to spread prosperity. It is now becoming a vehicle to raid US innovation. See the WTO’s 164-member Friday agreement that allows developing countries, including China, to steal intellectual property for Covid vaccines.

The White House is scourging the deal as a diplomatic victory. But it is a huge defeat for US national interests that will benefit China and set a precedent that erodes intellectual property protection. This won’t be the last time global scammers will try to steal US technology.

The fight against the WTO began in autumn 2020, when India and South Africa tabled a resolution to suspend intellectual property protection for Covid vaccines, therapies and tests. They quickly garnered the support of low-income countries and progressives who complained about the lack of “fairness”. It does not matter that the United States and Europe have financed the development of these technologies.

Relieving pressure from the left, President Biden approved a waiver of IP. He also undermined European allies who opposed the patent giveaway. For what? Vaccine manufacturers had already delivered billions of doses to developing countries. Now the world is inundated with vaccine doses and tens of millions are being thrown out because low-income countries don’t have the health infrastructure to distribute them. This makes the WTO agreement even more disconcerting.

WTO rules already establish a process for mandatory patent licensing of drugs in developing countries during public health emergencies. These rules require due process and fair compensation for drug manufacturers. They also protect against public disclosure of clinical trial data that include trade secrets. The new agreement cancels these rules.

An earlier draft of the compromise would have prevented China from taking advantage of the waiver. Friday’s deal no. It simply says that developing countries like China “with the existing capacity to produce COVID-19 vaccines are encouraged make a binding commitment not to make use of this decision “(italics ours).

In short, there is nothing legally binding that prevents China from stealing US mRNA technology, using it to develop its own vaccines, even for other diseases, and then selling the shots under its own brands. The deal lasts for five years, so it could potentially cover a future combined mRNA vaccine for Covid, influenza, and respiratory syncytial virus.

Despite their victory, the supporters of the renunciation are not satisfied. “Vaccines have already lost relevance,” said Indian Trade and Industry Minister Shri Piyush Goyal. The “hope of the West is to lighten their chests of all guilt today, show the world that we have been so magnanimous today, kick the can down the road for the therapies and diagnostics that are now truly essential” .

Guilt for what? Saving millions of lives through biotech innovation?

The only bright side is that the deal doesn’t extend to Covid testing technologies and therapies, at least for now. But it requires WTO members to decide within six months whether to do so. The Biden administration will rush to the ramparts to defend Pfizer‘S

Paxlovid patents this fall? Don’t bet on it.

Why did the Biden administration and the Europeans accept the deal? Maybe they think countries won’t take advantage of it because Covid vaccines are plentiful. But this is shortsighted. Now that the WTO has set the precedent of patent infringement in emergencies, there will certainly be more demands to be made for other “essential” technologies.

Lo, UN Secretary-General António Guterres recently proclaimed that “renewable energy technologies, such as battery storage, must be treated as essential and freely available global public goods” and “by removing obstacles to knowledge sharing. and technology transfer, including intellectual property constraints —is critical to a rapid and just transition to renewable energy. “

Semiconductors and genetically modified crops could also become fair game. IP protection encourages companies to invest in new technologies. It is one of the main reasons the United States is more innovative than China. By undermining the incentives behind innovation, the WTO deal will harm America, and that also means the world.

Journal Editorial Report: Best and Worst of the Week from Kim Strassel, Jason Riley and Dan Henninger. Images: AFP / Getty Images / Reuters / Zuma Press Composite: Mark Kelly

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It appeared in the print edition of June 18, 2022.