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IP waiver for COVID goods seen affecting trade deals

THE INTELLECTUAL property (IP) regulator urged caution on proposals to suspend some IP protections in the case of goods needed to contain the pandemic as such a move may affect global trade agreements.

The so-called “TRIPS waiver” would suspend enforcement of parts of the TRIPS agreement, an IP treaty with the World Trade Organization (WTO), to expand access to COVID-19 vaccines, treatments, and diagnostic tools.

TRIPS is more formally known as the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights.

Public health advocate Coalition for People’s Right to Health is asking the government to pursue a waiver.

“Of course, the waiver will have implications on the Philippines’ obligations under international trade agreements, particularly those with IP chapters,” Intellectual Property Office of the Philippines (IPOPHL) Bureau of Patents Director Lolibeth R. Medrano said in an event Saturday.

The Philippines has signed the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), a trade pact that includes China, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, South Korea and all 10 member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. The deal covers intellectual property, e-commerce, small business, and competition.

RCEP, along with a Philippine deal with the European Free Trade Association, has provisions that are based on TRIPS, Ms. Medrano said.

IPOPHL and government agencies that deal with health and trade are part of a technical committee that is holding consultations to form a national position on the waiver, she said.

Faced with the developments, the country continues to participate in the discussions at the regional and WTO (levels).”

Legislation will also be needed for a TRIPS waiver, Ms. Medrano said.

“Still, we need a municipal law to have that effective in our jurisdiction. We’re studying actually the implications of the waiver — if it’s approved — to the IP Code provisions.”

The waiver could have implications on IP Code provisions on copyright, patents, and industrial design, potentially prompting amendments to the IP code or a law that would suspend the application of the relevant provisions.

As the Philippines continues to monitor and participate in WTO discussions, she said the government is working on the development of the pharmaceutical industry, specifically vaccine production.

“Current vaccine production capacity is just limited to fill and finish facilities, meaning these are just repacking vaccines in vials. So hopefully this would lead to full-fledged vaccine development facilities.” — Jenina P. Ibañez 

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