I have been following issues relating to intellectual property in this pandemic closely since the proposal by Costa Rica to pledge sharing all Covid-19 related knowledge and IP in March 2020. This was the seed for the later C-TAP facility hosted by the WHO in May. This prescient Costa Rica intiative was sidelined by COVAX and other bilateral deal makings by individual governments. In September 2020, India and South Africa proposed a waiver on IP, incl. trade secrets, on medicines and technologies against Covid-19, for the duration of the pandemic. After over a year since the start of this global pandemic, the TRIPS waiver is still being discussed and resisted by a handful of countries and their pharmaceutical lobbies, although much of public opinion has moved. After the initial PPE shortage, there has been constant stream of news about vaccines, bilateral deals, vaccine shortage, production problem, export restrictions and the resistance to scale-up production.
Throughout this pandemic time, it has been challenging to engage in research as if nothing had happened and as if we were thinking and writing like in pre-pandemic times. Maybe it will be possible to have more distance to the sheer amount of dead and suffering when the pandemic is over, and make better sense of the past year. At the moment, I don’t have much appetite to engage in a second-order observation of an evolving situation. There are still battles ongoing about who gets to live or die, or who doesn’t count because of their statistical improbability or the social and geographical location they happen to live in and are bound by. If there is one early diagnosis and intervention that I can underwrite is that designed global structural inequities are manifesting their lethal force in the number of infections and dead, both endonationally as well as internationally.
The little contribution that I can make at this point is to offer partial perspectives on the evolving situation against the background of patent law history and theory, as well as history of sciences and STS. I hope that they may be interesting to the general public who wonder why the global intellectual property law works in the way it does and why universities engage in patenting and spin-offs.
In February, I wrote a long-form article of how intellectual property law enables vaccine nationalism for Critical Legal Thinking Blog.
In March, I had the pleasure to talk with Matthew Dagher-Margosian for The Art of Travel, a podcast with an internationalist outlook, for a pod on IP Law, monopolies and why we still don’t have a Peoples’ Vaccine .
This month, April, Geneva Health Files’s Priti Patnaik interviewed me about the financialisation of IP, the politics of intellectual property law and the TRIPS waiver for medicines and technologies against the Covid-19. You can find the interview here.
In May, I will be in conversation with the historian of science and legal scholar, Mario Biagioli, and anthropologist and STS scholar, Javier Lezaun, to discuss patent capital(ism) and the Covid-19 pandemic in relation to notions of private/public dichotomy, patent justifications and the idea of the commons. You can register for it here.
The need for a concerted action on TRIPS waiver, lifting export restrictions and the sharing of know-how for increased vaccine production has never been greater.