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According to a recent statement by the US Trade Representative:

“This is a global health crisis, and the extraordinary circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic call for extraordinary measures. The Administration believes strongly in intellectual property protections, but in service of ending this pandemic, supports the waiver of those protections for COVID-19 vaccines. We will actively participate in text-based negotiations at the World Trade Organization (WTO) needed to make that happen. Those negotiations will take time given the consensus-based nature of the institution and the complexity of the issues involved.

Is this the first time in US history that a US Presidents administration openly voiced support for taking away intellectual property protections from a private company? I imagine this is pretty common with government-owned patents/copyright, but did this ever happen with private property?

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As far as pharmaceuticals in least-developed countries, seemingly in 2015 when WT/L/971 was granted, although itself is a continuation of an older policy. But technically that waiver is reviewed annually by the WTO Ministerial Conference.

Noting the decision of the Council for TRIPS on the Extension of the Transition Period under Article 66.1 of the TRIPS Agreement for Least Developed Country Members for Certain Obligations with Respect to Pharmaceutical Products, adopted by the Council for TRIPS at its meeting of 6 November 2015 (IP/C/73);
Recalling the decision of the Council for TRIPS on the Extension of the Transition Period under Article 66.1 of the TRIPS Agreement for Least Developed Country Members for Certain Obligations with Respect to Pharmaceutical Products (IP/C/25), adopted by the Council for TRIPS at its meeting of 25-27 June 2002, pursuant to the instructions of the Ministerial Conference contained in paragraph 7 of the Declaration on the TRIPS Agreement and Public Health (WT/MIN(01)/DEC/2) (the "Declaration");
Considering that obligations under paragraphs 8 and 9 of Article 70 of the TRIPS Agreement, where applicable, should not prevent attainment of the objectives of paragraph 7 of the Declaration and the decision of the Council for TRIPS, adopted on 6 November 2015 (IP/C/73);
Noting that, in light of the foregoing, exceptional circumstances exist justifying a waiver from paragraphs 8 and 9 of Article 70 of the TRIPS Agreement with respect to pharmaceutical products in respect of least developed country Members;
Decides as follows:
1. The obligations of least developed country Members under paragraphs 8 and 9 of Article 70 of the TRIPS Agreement shall be waived with respect to pharmaceutical products until 1 January 2033, or until such a date on which they cease to be a least developed country Member, whichever date is earlier.
2. This waiver shall be reviewed by the Ministerial Conference not later than one year after it is granted, and thereafter annually until the waiver terminates, in accordance with the provisions of paragraph 4 of Article IX of the WTO Agreement.

It's hard to find mainstream (thus not overtly biased) media coverage on the matter, as it was apparently not covered by the mainstream press, but from the more niche coverage that I could find that was the least incendiary in re US position (and I'm not joking--there was much worse)

“The deal reached is a slight improvement over the previous transition period which was for 14 years and without a mailbox waiver, but it is a far cry from the LDC Group’s original request to the TRIPS Council for a pharmaceutical patent exemption linked to a country’s graduation from LDC status, and what is needed to deal with the public health problems in LDCs,” said Chee Yoke Ling from Third World Network.

The LDCs’ original request received widespread unconditional support from developing countries, the European Union members, various UN and international agencies (WHO, UNITAID, UNAIDS and UNDP), suppliers of generic medicines to LDCs, civil society organizations from across the world and even members of the US Congress and Senators including Senator Bernie Sanders, a contender for the US presidential campaign.

However, none of this moved the US Administration, which continued to stand largely alone in its opposition to the motivated requests of the poorest nations. Instead the US offered a paltry 10-year duration, which was firmly rejected by the LDC Group.

According to trade diplomats, following the 10-year offer, the LDC Group hopefully countered with a 30-year duration, but even this was not acceptable to the US.

“By insisting first on 10 years and then drawing the line at 17 years, the US once again reveals itself as the bullyboy for Big Pharma, willing to do any dirty work needed to champion its global hegemony over the elixirs of life or death”, said Professor Brook K. Baker from Health GAP (Global Access Project) & Northeastern University School of Law, Program on Human Rights and the Global Economy.

James Love from Knowledge Ecology International reacting to the deal said, “The decision to extend the WTO waiver of drug patent rules for 17 years is a better outcome than the 10-year waiver proposed by the US Trade Representative Ambassador Michael Froman, but it is also a disappointment, and falls short of what was asked and needed” adding that, “The Obama Administration’s trade policy continues to favor drug companies over poor people, and to prop a system that needs to be fixed and changed, and not defended.”

LDC status does seem to matter, because e.g. India (for instance) is not on the LDC list, although Bangladesh is on that list. (The GDP per capita is about 40% higher in India.)

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  • Doesn’t seem like this act of thievery is opposed by the mainstream media today either… Accepting the answer. May 7 at 14:35

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