The role of Intellectual Property in the Covid-19 vaccine

The year 2020 marked itself as the year of the Covid-19 pandemic, a virus that still threatens people and the world economies every day. Finding a cure is one of the essential weapons to put an end to this health crisis.

The main challenge when producing a vaccine for a disease is to create a large quantity in a short period of time. Med-tech companies compete to develop and manufacture a unique, effective vaccine because if the vaccine works on people, the company will have the chance to make huge amounts of money out of the vaccine’s sale since it will be sold on international markets.

However, many factors will enter into play in this race and affect the development, production, and distribution of the shot: health intellectual property (IP) is on top of the considerations.

What role will IP play in incentivizing pharmaceutical companies to win the sprint in manufacturing the vaccine? What are the IP rights that the company will have over the vaccine?

Let’s start first by defining IP.

  • What is IP?

According to the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), IP “refers to creations of the mind, such as inventions, literary and artistic works, designs, symbols, names, and images used in commerce.” IP is protected by law in the form of patents, copyright, and trademarks, which enable people to earn recognition or financial benefit from what they invent or create.

Vaccines are generally registered as patents. Patenting an invention means to grant a property right by a governmental authority to an inventor. Hence, the inventor can enjoy exclusive rights over the patented process, design, or invention for a while, in exchange for a comprehensive disclosure of the invention. When the vaccine is patented, and while it is valid (generally for 20 years), competing companies will not be able to use its same formula, whether to produce it or distribute it, without the inventor’s consent.

  • Patenting the Covid-19 vaccine

The developing country will do its best to patent the Covid-19 vaccine for many reasons:

  1. The cooperation between governments and pharmaceutical companies

Producing an effective vaccine will urge countries to go towards international collaboration. Rich countries will spend millions and billions on medical research and developments to step into the world of the Covid-19 treatment. On the other hand, low and middle-income countries won’t usually contribute to this cooperation, which means that they will have no to limited access to the treatment.

  1. Tax incentives and extent to patent protection

The US government plans on offering pharmaceutical companies who will put in place an effective treatment for Covid-19, a tax incentive plan, and an extent to the patent protection.

Under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES Act), the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) is extending the time to file certain patents related documents or fees which otherwise would have been due on or after March 27, 2020.

This incentive helps companies focus on innovation and treating and vaccinating against Covid-19.

  • Patent pooling

  1. Definition and Medicine Patent Pooling (MPP)

A patent pool is an agreement entered into between two or more companies agreeing to license their patents to one another or a third party. Historically, the need for patent pooling arose when an inventor of an invention got stuck in complex technologies and needed a complementary patent to achieve productive and complete technical solutions.

In July 2010, the United Nations founded the Medicine Patent Pooling (MPP) to encourage patent licensing. The idea is that patents are intended to reward innovations. If not licensed, a patent can prevent the production or sale of affordable generic medicines and the development of novel innovations. The MPP’s role is to negotiate with patent holders for licenses on life-saving medicines. Such licenses allow generic drug manufacturers to distribute patented medicine in low and middle-income countries and give the ability to develop new treatments.

  1. The role of MPP in the Covid-19 vaccine

On May 29, 2020, the MPP launched the “Covid-19 Technology Access Pool (C-TAP)” to ensure equitable access to the new researches and technologies related to Covid-19 at a fair price.

The patent pool can benefit in the battle against Covid-19 by encouraging innovation and letting everyone access medication. It ensures fast research and development and enables quick access to the vaccine.

States should support, implement, and be accountable to the C-TAP and deposit all IP, test data, processes, and safety information into the C-TAP.


Up until this day, Covid-19 is still untreatable. China recently granted the first Covid-19 patent to CanSino Biologists Inc. for its Covid-19 vaccine called “Ad5-nCOV”. With international pharmaceutical companies’ cooperation and the right labs and research and development funds, we may expect treatment and a vaccine to put an end to the pandemic soon.

Ghina Massalkhi