Trade Secrecy and Covid-19

September 10, 2021

Key Takeaways

  • Trade secrets are an increasingly important form of intellectual property that secure proprietary information. They serve as foundation for investment in innovation and encourage greater collaboration between businesses and other institutions by creating a foundation of trust.
  • Trade secrets along with other IP rights helped enable the innovation, investment, and cooperation that has made possible the development and delivery of Covid-19 vaccines in record time.
  • Many proponents of a proposal at the World Trade Organization to allow members to ignore or negate innovators’ intellectual property rights (IPRs) related to Covid-19 (i.e., ‘TRIPS Waiver’) misunderstand the function of trade secrets. Some have accused innovators of prolonging the pandemic by not surrendering trade secrets. As we explain here, trade secrets have enabled greater and faster technology transfer by establishing trust among partners.
  • We document that innovators already are sharing secrets and know-how widely with dozens of partners across the world to produce vaccine and therapeutic doses as quickly as possible. In several instances, they are working closely with their biggest competitors, thanks to the security provided by trade secrecy and other IP laws.
  • Forcing the disclosure of trade secrets would get in the way of manufacturing badly needed doses of Covid-19 vaccines by undermining voluntary arrangements and diverting resources from where they are needed most.