Since the market launch of the first vaccines against Covid-19, patent protection for these vaccines has also been discussed. Above all, this affects mRNA vaccines. Global sales in this area were recently around 50 billion dollars.
The positions are diametrically opposed: the protection of intellectual property prevents the global supply of Covid-19 vaccines, say some. Patent protection is the guarantee that the pharmaceutical industry will continue to invest billions in research into new drugs, the others explain.
India and South Africa in particular, supported by the USA, are calling for the temporary suspension of property rights, also known as waivers, with reference to the pandemic emergency. The EU, Great Britain and Switzerland, on the other hand, oppose it. They argue that global production of vaccines this year should be enough to mathematically supply the entire world population.
The World Health Organization (WHO) is currently still negotiating a limited release of the protective rights to Covid vaccines for a period of three years. The pharmaceutical association vfa now fears nothing less than a “turning point” if this position should prevail. Claus Michelsen, Managing Director Economic Policy, warns of a “precedent with negative consequences for the willingness to innovate in the pharmaceutical industry”.
This is one of the particularly innovative sectors: Measured in terms of turnover and also in terms of total expenditure, research expenditure (F
In order to scientifically examine its own position and thus strengthen the arguments against the cancellation of patent protection, the industry association commissioned the Berlin innovation economist Stefan Wagner to weigh up the pros and cons of patent protection.
In the report, which is exclusively available to WELT AM SONNTAG, the scientist initially comes to a clear conclusion: “Without suitable institutions for the protection of intellectual property and public funding measures, there is a risk of a suboptimal low level of research and development and thus an undersupply of new technologies that increase welfare .”
Wagner quantified what this means in concrete terms in another study. This shows that shortening patent protection by just one year leads to a 4.9 percentage point lower approval rate for medicines. “Companies’ research efforts are dampened as the length of market exclusivity of their product decreases,” he states.
With regard to the Covid-19 vaccines, the desire for a temporary suspension of the exclusive rights is understandable, after all, the distribution of the vaccines is very unequal globally, according to Wagner. However, a supposed short-term supply advantage is offset by a future lower willingness to invest money in long-term research.
In addition, it is unlikely that a waiver alone would enable industrial vaccine production without the specific knowledge of the actual inventors. The question of production capacities is also problematic: In case of doubt, the owner of these plants must be prepared to produce vaccines at manufacturing costs. “Otherwise, market power will only pass from the patent holder to the producer,” warns Wagner.
While the short-term success of a waiver is therefore questionable, there is a risk of negative consequences for the innovation system, which is based on reliable patent protection. “In the long term, a weakening of patent rights is likely to lead to a decline in private F
“The well-established system of state basic research and subsequent private research investments is fundamentally based on a reliable patent system. Interventions in this lead to lower incentives for private investments.” For the industry, it is therefore clear that there should be no exceptions to patent protection, neither for the Covid vaccines nor with a view to future pandemics. “The industry has successfully solved the problem through cooperation and technology transfers – it should remain so in the future,” says Michelsen.
However, this position is not unchallenged: from the point of view of US law professor Robin Feldman, for example, the existing patent law often creates the wrong incentives because it tempts industry to cover new products with new patents and thus keep the hurdles for competitors as high as possible. An end to the debate – not in sight.