Global health activists who pushed for the renouncement praised the government’s decision. It is “a truly historic move that shows that President Biden wants to be not just an American but a global leader,” said Priti Krishtel, executive director of the Drugs, Access and Knowledge Initiative.
However, activists said renouncing it alone would not increase vaccine supplies around the world. It must be accompanied by a process called “technology transfer” in which patent holders provide technical know-how and personnel. Activists are also calling for Mr Biden to use his leverage to ensure that production grows globally, and not just from the drug companies that now hold the patents.
“No U.S.T.R. has made such a statement, ”said Asia Russell, executive director of Health GAP, a global advocacy group for AIDS treatment, using the abbreviation for the sales representative. “And now the actions must match the words.”
The announcement by the United States is only one step towards a possible international agreement to suspend intellectual property rights. Negotiating the fine print of an agreement that satisfies countries around the world is a huge task. If an agreement can be reached in the World Trade Organization, it will be far from clear what would happen next.
Lisa Larrimore Ouellette, professor of patent law at Stanford Law School, suggested that the move by the Biden administration could help get the pharmaceutical industry to “do business they can live with.”
Ana Santos Rutschman, a health law expert at Saint Louis University Law School, said the pharmaceutical industry now has a clear incentive to “shift the debate to the global justice issue of access to doses that we can actually produce, rather than addressing them enormous struggle. “The best choice for businesses, she said, might be to take action such as donating more doses of vaccine or selling them for charitable purposes to lower-income countries in need.
The debate about relaxing intellectual property rules has been going on for months. India and South Africa proposed the derogation last fall to suspend parts of an international intellectual property agreement that addresses issues such as patents, copyrights and trade secrets. Under President Donald J. Trump, the United States rejected the effort. Other opponents were Great Britain and the European Union.