Trilateral cooperation on public health, trade and intellectual property

Three international organizations, the World Health Organization (WHO), the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) and the World Trade Organization (WTO), are cooperating at the interface of public health, trade and intellectual property as part of increasing international efforts to support innovation in health technologies and to ensure the availability of affordable new and more effective medicines for patients in all countries.

International efforts to promote innovation and access to health technologies have increased since the beginning of the century. To ensure policy coherence, the three Secretariats have responded by strengthening their trilateral cooperation with a view to fostering a better understanding of the linkage between public health, trade and intellectual property policies and enhancing a mutually supportive implementation of those policies.

Cooperation allows the three organizations to fulfil their mandates more effectively, support one another's initiatives, and promote the efficient use of resources, for example, in technical assistance.

The mandates of the three organizations

The three organizations have their own distinct, but complementary, mandates to work on issues relating to public health, trade and intellectual property:

  • The WHO has a mandate to work on the interface between public health, trade and intellectual property, based on and renewed by a large number of Resolutions adopted by the World Health Assembly since 1996. In particular, the 2008 Global Strategy and Plan of Action on Public Health, Innovation and Intellectual Property has reaffirmed and broadened WHO's mandate, to encourage and support the application and management of intellectual property in a manner that maximizes health-related innovation, protects public health and promotes access to medicines for all. Its implementation is led by the WHO, in close collaboration with national governments and relevant international organizations, including WIPO and the WTO. The WHO provides technical and policy advice to its member states upon request and takes an active part in capacity building activities. > More information.
  • Guided by the recommendations of the Development Agenda, adopted by its General Assemblies in 2007, WIPO cooperates closely with other UN agencies and intergovernmental organizations to inform the debate on global public health challenges.  WIPO provides neutral and fact‑based information and links its technical capacities, such as in the field of patent information or IP infrastructure, to the health policy dialogue. The aim is to contribute to a better understanding of the role of the IP system and to support an inclusive and informed debate on the benefits and limitations of the IP system in meeting public health challenges.  WIPO has a wide range of specialized programmes of technical and legal assistance for developing countries. > More information.
  • The WTO’s work on innovation and access to health technologies and on issues at the intersection of public health and intellectual property has been guided especially by the Doha Declaration on the TRIPS Agreement and Public Health and subsequent instruments pursuant to instructions given by Ministers in its paragraph 6. WTO's activities include technical cooperation programmes related to public health, trade and IP, discussions in the TRIPS Council on the link between relevant TRIPS provisions and public health and specific measures taken by members to promote innovation and access to health technologies. These include implementing added flexibilities for public health in the TRIPS Agreement, such as the “Special Compulsory Licensing System” for countries with limited or no manufacturing capacity for medicines. > More information.

Trilateral cooperation in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic

On 15 June 2021, the Directors-General of the WHO, WIPO, and WTO met and issued a joint statement in which they agreed to intensify their cooperation to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic, and underscored their joint commitment to universal, equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines, therapeutics, diagnostics, and other health technologies. They reaffirmed their commitment to work together closely during a subsequent meeting on 1 February 2022

In this vein, the three organizations have implemented three specific initiatives:

These initiatives build upon each of the organizations' specific mandates and programmes of activities, as well as the pre-existing framework of trilateral cooperation that had already produced a series of joint activities and materials.

COVID-19 Pandemic-related Capacity-Building Workshops

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Technical Symposiums on Current Policy Issues

Information resources to support policy dialogue   back to top

“An Integrated Health, Trade and IP Approach to Respond to the Covid-19 Pandemic” (Update 30 August 2021)

“Promoting Access to Medical Technologies and Innovation: Intersections between public health, intellectual property and trade” — second edition (2020) 

“Promoting Access to Medical Technologies and Innovation: Intersections between public health, intellectual property and trade” — first edition (2013) 

“WTO Agreements & Public Health” (2002)

Capacity Building and Technical Cooperation Activities


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