Germany Bucks Biden Attempt to Waive Patent Protections for COVID Vaccines

Posted: May 06, 2021 4:35 PM
Germany Bucks Biden Attempt to Waive Patent Protections for COVID Vaccines

Source: Hannibal Hanschke/Pool Photo via AP

The German government announced Thursday that it rejects the Biden administration's proposal to waive patent and other intellectual property protections on COVID vaccines in a bid to expand access and increase the number of people around the world who have been immunized against the Wuhan coronavirus. 

Saying it would cause "severe complications" for vaccine production, a spokesperson for the government explained why Germany would not entertain such a plan:

"The limiting factors in the production of vaccines are the production capacities and the high quality standards and not patents... The protection of intellectual property is a source of innovation and must remain so in the future." 

via Bloomberg

Last month—before suggesting Thursday that the European Union would come to the table set by the World Trade Organization to discuss negotiating an intellectual property waiver—European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen opposed such measures. "I am not at all a friend of releasing patents," she told the New York Times, "you need this private-sector ingenuity."

In the wake of the Biden administration's announcement that the United States would reverse its earlier position and support removing intellectual property protections on COVID vaccines, a number of WTO member nations called for the same. 

France's Emmanuel Macron told reporters his government is open to waiving patents while noting that allowing a free for all on intellectual property wouldn't yield the desired outcome without the necessary technology and equipment to actually produce vaccines. If, as Macron seems to understand, nations in need of vaccines can't produce them, removing intellectual property protections won't help. 

Italy's Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Luigi Di Maio tweeted "We need free access to patents on covid vaccines," linking to a post on his Facebook page that praised Biden's decision.

"The Biden Administration announcement, favoring patent suspension, is a very important signal," Di Maio wrote. "Italy is there, Europe don't miss this opportunity and show that you are united and brave."

A very important signal indeed, coming from the United States in its role as the leader of the free world. Rather than leading a campaign against genocidal Chinese communists, Russian aggression, or Iranian-sponsored terrorism, President Biden is leading the United States—with France, Italy, and a growing number of nations in tow—down a path that will undercut innovation and the intellectual property that makes such advances possible. 

Government leaders from Kenya, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and beyond also lobbied for patent waivers, making Chancellor Merkel's current stance that much more courageous, assuming Germany holds fast in defense of intellectual property.

As the Associated Press points out, "the decision ultimately is up to the 164-member World Trade Organization, and if just one country votes against a waiver, the proposal will fail," adding it is not "clear what effect such a step might have on the campaign to vanquish the outbreak."