South Korean President has to act as what he claimed at the WHA 73

The following statement was released on June 3, 2012 by tens of civil society organizations including Knowledge Commune.

On May 29, 2020, the World Health Organization called governments, non-governmental organizations, scientists, researchers, and civil societies for a solidarity to action for equitable global access to COVID-19 health technologies. We endorse and welcome the WHO’s Solidarity Call to Action. Also, we urge the Korean government, businesses, scientists and researchers to respond the WHO’s Solidarity Call to Action.

Safe and effective vaccines, treatments and diagnostics should be produced in sufficient amount and distributed equitably and globally. Also, they have to be available to people around the world in conditions that are free from exclusive rights of developers or businesses, and provided free of charge to the most vulnerable people. We worry that the competitions some countries and pharmaceutical companies have recently shown are based on narrow-minded state egoism or nationalism, and are not conducive to bring COVID-19 to an end, only making the situation even worse.

At the 73rd WHA of May 18-19, the WHO member states confirmed that health tools for diagnosing, treating or preventing COVID-19 are global public good and called for universal, equitable and collaborative approaches. To make this happen, voluntary actions of stakeholders are far from enough. Role of government is vital. Moon Jae-in, the president of Republic of Korea, emphasized, in his speech at the WHA 73, a global cooperation beyond the borders for the development vaccines and treatments. He also maintained that such vaccines and treatments are public goods that must be distributed equitably to the whole world, and the Republic of Korea fully supports the efforts of the WHO to develop vaccines and treatments.

Nonetheless, the South Korean government did not join the WHO’s Solidarity Call to Action. It is very odd to see that Korean government acts in a different way from her president vowed in the international organization. Before it is too late, the Korean government has to participate in the WHO’s knowledge pool. What the Korean government needs to do is not boasting the success of Korean-quarantine but taking the lead in solidarity action by sharing technology, knowledge, data and know-how related to Korean experiences in COVID-19 diagnosis and quarantine. In addition, when offering public R&D projects, the Korean government should attach conditions that R&D results are shared with the WHO’s knowledge pool.

Making the COVID-19 response knowledge and technology the public good inevitably requires us to revise domestic legislation – the Framework Act of Intellectual Property. This Act, stemming from the Japanese Basic Act of Intellectual Property, was transplanted in South Korea by the Korean Patent Office (KPO misleadingly names itself as Korean Intellectual Property Office) and the Korean Patent Attorneys Association for their own sake, and mandates South Korea to privatize knowledge (creation, protection and utilization of intellectual property) rather than to share knowledge. Therefore, the public good claims of Mun Jae-in at the WHA 73 and any Korean participation of the WHO’s knowledge pool may face the risk to run afoul of the Framework Act of Intellectual Property. With such an Act in place, nobody would trust Korean government’s words to join the WHO’s Solidarity Call to Action.

Along with the purposes to fix the broken domestic IP system, we propose to form a public-private consultative body to encourage a wide participation of the governmental and public research institutions, universities, and private sectors in the WHO’s knowledge pool. We also invite the National Assembly to join the consultative body as soon as the 21st National Assembly is formed in the coming week. Finally, we will endeavor to make Korea to join the WHO’s Solidarity Call to Action and fix the Korean system that has boosted ever-increasing privatization and commercialization of knowledge and technology.

June 3, 2020

– Original Korean text is here.