The Covid-19 pandemic has led national and regional intellectual property (IP) offices to expedite certain procedures relating to the use of patented devices and copyrighted materials. The Secretariat of the World Trade Organization (WTO) has published a paper sketching the background of its fundamental IP deal – the WTO Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) – and detailing some of the mechanisms its provides for in times of crisis.

According to the WTO, the TRIPS framework – the “most comprehensive multilateral agreement on IP” – can expedite “access to existing technologies” and support the “creation, manufacturing and dissemination of new technologies”: in the case of the pandemic, “protective equipment, contact tracing software, diagnostics, as well as vaccines and treatments yet to be developed.”

It can also support “collaboration and cooperation among health technology developers, governments and other stakeholders” and help with the voluntary “pooling of IP rights” to address the pandemic.

The available mechanisms allow for the compulsory if conditional licensing and government use of a patent without the patent holder’s authorization, with certain protections for the holder.

Moreover, says the WTO, the TRIPS Agreement extends beyond patents to the protection of trade secrets and clinical trial data, and seeks to balance the interests of rights holders against public access to copyright-protected works.