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Merriam-Webster defines intellectual as “of or relating to the intellect or its use; developed or chiefly guided by the intellect rather than by emotion or experience; requiring use of the intellect” [1]. A story that caught my attention recently was Rich, developing nations wrangle over COVID vaccine patents published in Reuters on March 10, 2021. The story speaks to the efforts exerted by South Africa and India on the World Trade Organization to reconsider measures in the existing WTO’s Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property or TRIPS Agreement.

According to the World Trade Organization, the TRIPS Agreement came into effect on January 1, 1995, and to date is “the most comprehensive multilateral agreement on intellectual property” [2]. The agreement covers three specific intellectual property areas, namely, Standards, Enforcement, and Dispute Settlement. “The TRIPS Agreement is a minimum standards agreement, which allows Members to provide more extensive protection of intellectual property if they so wish. Members are left free to determine the appropriate method of implementing the provisions of the Agreement within their own legal system and practice” [3]. 

Regardless of how much I try, I would not do as good of a job as Stan Muller from Crash Course did in explaining the nuances and the historical journey of International IP Law.

In addition to Mr. Muller’s explanation, I would like to note two specific Articles of the TRIPS Agreement – 

Regardless of how big or small an invention or a discovery might be, a monetary or profit component awaits recognition for the labor spent to fight the noble cause. No country would recognize or enshrine that capitalistic instinct better than the United States. In a report published in 2012 by the World Intellectual Property Organization, of the Top 20 origins number of patent filings per office of first filling between 1921 and 2011, the United States originated more patents than all the other countries combined [6]. The report also highlights that the average annual growth rate in patent filings from 2000-2009 for China, Brazil, and India was approximately 26.2%, 14.3%, and 3.2%, respectively, compared to the worldwide average annual growth rate 1.8% [7]. While the U.S Government is the largest applicant, publicly traded companies such as GlaxoSmithKline (NYSE: GSK), Pfizer (NYSE: PFE), Novartis (NYSE: NVS), Merck & Co (NYSE: MRK), and Sanofi-Aventis (NASDAQ: SNY) are highlighted as some of the most significant applicants.

Back to the origin, South Africa and India’s contention is presented to the World Trade Organization. “South Africa argued the current TRIPS system does not work, pointing to the failure to secure life-saving medicines during the HIV/AIDS pandemic that had cost at least 11 million African lives” [8]. Historical events have highlighted the fragility in international cooperation during pandemics.

It is vital to protect the creator’s intellectual rights and the efforts to be monetarily recognized; to what extent is that motive applicable to global health paradigms is hard to judge. Moreover, if the argument that technology and access to information promotes an accelerated path for agricultural and industrial economies to transition to knowledge-based and information-based economies, then the disparity in the patent landscape should be calibrated.

According to the World Health Organization, “About 80% of global vaccine sales come from five large multi-national corporations (MNC) that were the product of various mergers and acquisitions of pharmaceutical companies over the past decades” [9]. The vaccines’ arrival to counter the COVID-19 pandemic has most definitely been a welcome signal for many families worldwide. With successful and unsuccessful administration protocols documented in several localities and nation-states, the question of how exactly capitalistic should a global vaccination supply can still be witnessed in the market.

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I pose that question since the one-year share price return of Moderna (NASDAQ: MRNA) has grown approximately 400% compared to the S&P 500, which rose around 50% over the past year.

Moreover, the price performance of Moderna (NASDAQ: MRNA) has simply dominated when compared to Sanofi-Aventis (NASDAQ: SNY), Johnson & Johnson (NYSE: JNJ), Pfizer (NYSE: PFE), Novartis (NYSE: NVS), GlaxoSmithKline (NYSE: GSK), Merck & Co (NYSE: MRK) in the last year.

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It was reported on September 4, 2020, by NPR that Moderna (NASDAQ: MRNA), Stéphane Bancel, Chief Executive Officer, and Tal Zaks, Chief Medical Officer, had sold more than $40 million and $10 million worth of stocks held respectively [10]. There is nothing wrong with company executives selling their shares of the company. It does cause a point of concern where high-level insiders of a company which prior to the pandemic, citing Mr. Dreisbach, “has never brought a product to market” [11] has a remarkable share price compared to other companies who sometimes have decades of production and sales to showcase. 

Authors Note – I directly do not directly own shares in any of the companies listed above. I do participate in the Fidelity Zero Large Cap Index Fund (NASDAQ: FNILX) since it provides good exposure to the overall market. The views, or comments expressed in this essay reflect personal reflections and observations. The content on this page is not a direct recommendation or invitation to invest in any of the companies listed. Readers are recommended to use the content for strictly informational and educational purposes. It is highly recommended that readers conduct their own due diligence prior to investing in shares of any of the companies listed or in the stock market. Past performance does not guarantee future results but can serve as an indicator.