In some countries such as India, the corona pandemic has worsened dramatically in the past few weeks.

In order to cope with the situation and accelerate vaccine production, more and more professionals and governments are calling for vaccine patents to be suspended.

Even American President Joe Biden spoke out in favor of exempting corona vaccines from their patents.

However, Germany and the EU have so far rejected the initiative.

The release of vaccination patents is not a “miracle solution”.

Corinna Budras

Business correspondent in Berlin.

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    Ilka Kopplin

    Editor in business.

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      Susanne Preuss

      Business correspondent in Stuttgart.

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        What are patents actually good for?

        Patents are property rights that allow inventors to use their innovations without fear of cheap copies.

        This does not mean that they are the only ones to use the inventions, they can also issue licenses and enter into collaborations.

        What are the penalties if patents are infringed?

        If companies ignore the patents of others, it can be expensive: The sharpest sword in this case is the injunction.

        The rights holder can then have the use of the invention prohibited.

        This is particularly unfortunate when the patent only represents a small part of complex devices such as cars or smartphones.

        The rights holders can thus prevent these products from being sold at all.

        What are the alternatives to revoking the patent?

        The realization that some inventions are so important that they should be made available to everyone has been around for a long time.

        That is why there are extensive options in both national and international law for issuing compulsory licenses.

        In Germany, right at the beginning of the pandemic last year, the legislature made deep cuts in the patent law of research institutions and pharmaceutical companies to ensure that drugs against corona are generally available in Germany.

        According to this, the Federal Ministry of Health can order that an invention can be used “in the interests of public welfare or the security of the federal government”.

        What does this mean for the patent holder?

        In concrete terms, this means that the federal government can instruct patent holders to make a vaccine or drug available to the general public in return for appropriate remuneration.

        Although this option has been discussed again and again in recent months, it has never been used, probably also because the companies concerned are willing to cooperate.

        Therefore it was not necessary to use coercion until now.

        And what is the legal situation outside of Germany?

        In international law there are also possibilities to ignore patents in emergencies, for example in Article 31 of the TRIPS Agreement.

        Is it enough to have the patents to make a vaccine?


        Every patent is a copy protection - central inventions can be protected from copying - but conversely not everything that defines an invention is patented.

        “With patents, at best, you have a rough recipe with which you can somehow try to cook something up,” explained Curevac founder Ingmar Hoerr in an interview with the FAZ

        What exactly is BioNTech & Co's lead?

        The vaccine manufacturer's patent strategy is specifically aimed at keeping a great deal of process and production knowledge in-house because it is the result of years or decades of research and experience. To stay with Ingmar Hoerr, one could say: a list of ingredients alone does not make a tasty menu. A star chef can conjure up something different from the same things than a beginner, because he cuts the ingredients differently, stirs longer or sears them hotter, quite apart from the fact that everyone keeps their secrets where the best goods are. With this wealth of experience, companies are even better protected against imitators, even where patent law is not taken so seriously.

        So a release of the patents wouldn't mean that other companies could easily produce this vaccine?

        No, it is not so easy to produce vaccine against the will of the manufacturer.

        However, everyone basically supports the willingness to cooperate on the basis of a business model.

        While BioNTech was looking for and found cooperation with a huge corporation, Curevac is going a different way and working with a network at different production levels.

        How quickly could a new vaccine come to market if someone got all the patents from a manufacturer?

        The marketing authorization of a vaccine is not only based on the patents, but on the entire development and manufacturing process. This means that every change would create a new vaccine, so to speak, which would then have to go through the same approval process. Among other things, appropriate studies would have to be planned and carried out with thousands of patients, which usually takes many months.