US Rebukes Patent, Abortion Language In WHO Resolution

By Dani Kass
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Law360 (May 19, 2020, 10:00 PM EDT) -- The U.S. on Tuesday joined a World Health Organization resolution calling for an investigation into the global response to the COVID-19 pandemic, but disassociated itself from language about reproductive health rights and allowing poor countries to ignore patents.

In a statement, the U.S. Mission to the United Nations and Other International Organizations in Geneva said it was concerned that allowing poor countries to ignore patent rules in order to access treatment or vaccines for the virus "sends the wrong message to innovators who will be essential to the solutions the whole world needs."

The U.S. said the language in the resolution goes against the "carefully negotiated, and balanced, language" in the World Trade Organization Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property and the Doha Declaration of 2001 and "instead presents an unbalanced and incomplete picture of that language at a time where all actors need to come together to produce vaccines and other critical health products."

Under the Doha Declaration, members agreed not to let TRIPS get in the way of responding to a public health crisis.

But the U.S. said it's "concerned that a misinterpretation of international trade obligations in non-WTO multilateral fora may negatively affect countries' abilities to incentivize new drug development and expand access to medicines."

It added that references to voluntarily pooling patents should be interpreted to those already existing before the pandemic, and that any such pooling should be "narrowly tailored in scope and duration to the medical needs of the current crisis" and involving the World Intellectual Property Organization.

In other parts of the resolution, the U.S. objected to references to "sexual and reproductive health" that advocates for access to abortion, noting that there's no international right to the procedure.

"The United States believes in legal protections for the unborn, and rejects any interpretation of international human rights ... to require any state party to provide access to abortion," the government said.

--Editing by Emily Kokoll.

For a reprint of this article, please contact reprints@law360.com.

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