Protecting U.S. innovation abroad to support economic and pandemic recovery

Ernest Kawka
Ernest Kawka February 1, 2022

Protecting U.S. innovation abroad to support economic and pandemic recovery.

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PhRMA’s recently submitted comments to the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR)’s 2022 Special 301 Report reinforce how the United States can confirm its strong commitment to defend American inventions in overseas markets and address damaging market access and intellectual property barriers abroad. These barriers harm America’s innovative and creative industries and the more than 45 million jobs they support across the country, with an economic and investment footprint in all 50 states.

Biopharmaceutical innovation has been a key tool in the global fight against COVID-19, and PhRMA member companies are continuing to deliver solutions that address the evolving virus, like variant-specific vaccines and therapies. This type of high-risk R&D is only possible when innovation is protected and valued. To achieve our shared goals of delivering medicines for patients and improving economies, it’s critical that the U.S. government protect American innovation abroad, and in particular, preserve the country’s role as a biopharmaceutical leader.

The challenges abroad are two-fold:

  • Biopharmaceutical innovators face a wide array of damaging government policies abroad that undervalue American innovation, undermine ongoing research into new treatments and cures and put American competitiveness, jobs and exports at risk.
  • Medicines discovered and manufactured by PhRMA member companies are the target of compulsory licensing and other harmful practices, which deny the most basic intellectual property protections necessary to drive discovery and bring new treatments and cures to patients around the world.

To support American innovators, USTR and other federal agencies should prioritize action to address compulsory licensing threats, including in Brazil, Chile, Indonesia, Malaysia and Russia, and to end discriminatory market access policies in several markets, including Japan, Canada and Korea.

Strong intellectual property and market access policies have made possible the tremendous effort necessary to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. Indeed, these policies have facilitated the unprecedented collaboration and partnerships between the private sector, researchers, academia, governments and other organizations – including more than 300 voluntary manufacturing and other partnerships to date – to deliver numerous COVID-19 treatments and vaccines in record time. Waiving obligations to protect intellectual property rights for COVID-19 vaccines under the World Trade Organization (WTO) Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) is deeply concerning because intellectual property is not a barrier to access and the pandemic response. Continued progress would not be possible without durable intellectual property and market access policies around the world.

Experience shows that weak health systems, inadequate infrastructure and distributional challenges unrelated to intellectual property protection are the true barriers impeding the global response to the pandemic. The Administration should focus efforts on addressing these barriers to improve global COVID-19 medicine equity.

Ultimately, foreign trading partners that deny adequate and effective protection of intellectual property rights, or deny fair and equitable market access, significantly threaten the ability of biopharmaceutical innovators to develop and export life-saving treatments and cures. By holding our international partners accountable to their commitments, supporting U.S. innovators abroad and promoting a strong intellectual property ecosystem, U.S. officials can simultaneously improve domestic and global health, as well as U.S. economic development and jobs.

Topics: Research and Development, Intellectual Property, Coronavirus