At the request of the World Health Organization (WHO), the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) has offered its expertise and technical input on patent issues as they relate to influenza viruses and their genes. A technical WIPO report on this question will serve as one input to WHO's Intergovernmental Meeting on Pandemic Influenza Preparedness: Sharing of Influenza Viruses and Access to Vaccines and other Benefits, which will meet in Geneva from 20-23 November 2007.
WHO, as the lead international agency for public health matters, deals with a host of international issues relating to flu virus surveillance and the preparation and distribution of flu vaccines, and is coordinating the international response to the threat of a flu pandemic. Earlier this year, the World Health Assembly (WHA) adopted a key resolution on "Pandemic influenza preparedness: sharing of influenza viruses and access to vaccines and other benefits" (WHA 60.28). This resolution called for a study on "the patent issues related to influenza viruses and their genes" in the context of a broad set of actions for influenza pandemic preparedness, the sharing of influenza viruses, access to vaccines and other benefits.
The WIPO secretariat is assisting the WHO secretariat to help clarify relevant technical patent-related issues raised by the debate. This is in line with WIPO's cooperation responsibilities within the UN system, and the Organization being the UN specialized agency on intellectual property. This work is undertaken by the program on life sciences established within WIPO to provide this kind of technical and practical support, including when it is sought by policymakers in other international bodies and processes. WIPO's technical work in this area is intended to be supportive of and responsive to the essential work undertaken by the WHO as the key agency on matters relating to public health.
WIPO's ongoing technical-level contributions to the international dialogue on avian flu issues are progressively unfolding on three fronts:
(i) a technical study on a number of specific patent issues prepared in response to the WHO's request. This study seeks to explain, in a way that is accessible and relevant to health policymakers, the technical side of the patent system as it relates to the flu virus;
(ii) work on illuminating the "patent landscape". This involves the search for practical answers to guide health policymakers in identifying what is actually being patented, where and by whom, and with what implications for virus sharing and vaccine development and production. This further aims to bridge the gap between a complex and rapidly evolving body of patent data and the needs of international health policymakers;
(iii) a more general practical review of the issues which seeks to put all of these elements into a broader context and to provide health policymakers with a comprehensive factual resource on IP matters as they relate to public health.
This technical-level work does not advocate any specific recommendations or policy options. The responsibility to determine the appropriate responses and mechanisms to safeguard public health rests with public health policymakers. WIPO's technical contribution is designed to provide useful background information to buttress the efforts of health policymakers as they set future directions for a global response that may help pre-empt and contain a potential public health crisis. It further aims to provide a neutral technical background for the important international discussion of these broader public policy issues.