India and South Africa have submitted a petition to the World Trade Organization seeking a waiver of all intellectual property rights under international treaties on drugs, vaccines, or other responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. This waiver petition has provoked an intense policy debate over the role of intellectual property in healthcare innovation.
On the one hand, advocates for the waiver argue that patents have been a blockade for patient access and created higher prices, especially in developing countries. On the other hand, opponents of the waiver maintain that there is no evidence that patents are blocking drug development or distribution for the COVID-19 pandemic. The opponents also maintain that patents made possible over the past several decades the R&D investments, the creation of technical know-how, and the commercial agreements that have been the launching pad for the unprecedented development of several vaccines and other medical treatments in less than a year.