Current Affair – May 7, 2021

Waiver on Intellectual Property Right

  • USA has announced support for waiving intellectual property protection for Covid-19 vaccines. US will pursue “text-based negotiations” on the waiver at the World Trade Organization (WTO).
  • All 164 WTO members must agree on the draft, and any one member can veto it. The European Union, which had earlier opposed the waiver, has now stated its intent to discuss the US-backed proposal.
  • The US support for an IP waiver stems from a proposal by India and South Africa in the WTO last year. That proposal had, however, called for a waiver on all Covid interventions, including testing diagnostics and novel therapeutics.

What does the intellectual property waiver for Covid-19 vaccines mean?

  • The IP waiver might open up space for  production of Covid vaccines with emergency use authorisations (EUA) — such as those developed by Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca, Novavax, Johnson & Johnson and Bharat Biotech — on a larger scale in middle-income countries.
  • Most production is currently concentrated in high-income countries; production by middle-income countries has been happening through licensing or technology transfer agreements.

Against thewaiver

  • Pharma companies including Pfizer and AstraZeneca had opposed the proposed waiver — saying eliminating IP protections would “undermine the global response to the pandemic”, including the ongoing efforts to tackle new variants.
  • It could also create confusion that could potentially undermine public confidence in vaccine safety and create a barrier to information sharing.
  • Bill Gates justification for not sharing vaccine tech with developing countries is “that it would not be feasible for a company to move vaccines to a developing nation”.
  • These countries do not have the capacity to speedily produce vaccines.

For the waiver

  • A number of companies from different countries have said they are ready to produce, and quality can always be assessed.
  • Between 1972 and 2005, India had adopted process patenting rather than product patenting, and built up a huge generic industry.
  • If western companies are interested in contracting Indian companies for manufacturing their vaccines in India, then how can they say you do not have the quality to produce on your own?

What was the earlier proposal from India and South Africa?

  • In October 2020, India and South Africa had asked the WTO to waive certain conditions of the Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) Agreement that could impede timely access to affordable medical products to combat Covid-19.
  • India moved from product patenting to process patenting in the 1970s, which enabled India to become a significant producer of generic drugs at global scale, and allowed companies like Cipla to provide Africa with anti-HIV drugs in the 1990s. But due to obligations arising out of the TRIPS Agreement, India had to amend the Patents Act in 2005, and switch to a product patents regime across the pharma, chemicals, and biotech sectors.   These sections — 1, 4, 5, and 7 — pertain to copyright and related rights, industrial designs, patents, and the protection of undisclosed information.

What are patents and IP rights?

  • A patent represents a powerful intellectual property right, and is an exclusive monopoly granted by a government to an inventor for a limited, pre-specified time.
  • A product patent ensures that the rights to the final product is protected, and anyone other than the patent holder can be restrained from manufacturing it during a specified period, even if they were to use a different process.
  • A process patent enables any person other than the patent holder to manufacture the patented product by modifying certain processes in the manufacturing exercise.
Source: Indian Express

Bond yields

  • Reserve Bank of India’s announced its decision to step up purchase of government securities under the government securities acquisition programme (G-SAP).
  •  It led to the yield on the benchmark 10-year bond falling below 6%.

How have bond yields moved recently?

  • The yield on the 10-year benchmark 5.85%, 2030 bond fell by 0.62% and closed at 5.978% on Wednesday, from 6.01% the previous day. It closed under 6% for the first time since February 12.
  • In April, the RBI launched G-SAP under which it said it would buy Rs 1 lakh crore worth of bonds in the April-June quarter. It has so far bought Rs 25,000 crore worth of government securities (G-secs). The 10-year bond has declined 15 basis points from 6.15% in the last one month.

Movements in Yields

  • Movements in yields depend on trends in interest rates.
  • It can result in capital gains or losses for investors. If an individual holds a bond carrying a yield of 6%, a rise in bond yields in the market will bring the price of the bond down.
  •  On the other hand, a drop in bond yield below 6% would benefit the investor as the price of the bond will rise, generating capital gains.

Why are bond yields softening?

  • The fall in bond yields in India could also be due to a sharp decline in US Treasury yields or the economic uncertainty caused by Covid-19.
  • The announcement of a bond-buying programme – G-SAP — at the start of the month played a crucial role in turning the market sentiment.
Source: Indian Express

Space X ‘Starship’

  • Serial number 15 (SN15), a prototype of the futuristic Starship rocket developed by Elon Musk’s SpaceX company, was able to launch and successfully land.
  • The spacecraft has been described as a game-changer for space travel, being a fully reusable transportation system for crew and cargo to the Earth’s orbit, Moon and Mars.

What is the Starship?

  • Designed by SpaceX, Starship is a spacecraft and super-heavy booster rocket meant to act as a reusable transportation system for crew and cargo to the Earth’s orbit, Moon and Mars.
  • Starship has been under development since 2012.
  • It  is a part of Space X’s central mission to make interplanetary travel accessible and affordable and to become the first private company to do so. Therefore, the company is working on building a fleet of reusable launch vehicles, capable of carrying humans to Mars and other destinations in the solar system.

NASA’s Artemis mission

  • Last month, NASA chose SpaceX to build a lander for its Artemis programme, which plans to send humans to the Moon in this decade.
  • SpaceX won the $2.89 billion contract in a bidding war against traditional space giants, Amazon and Dynetics.
  • The vehicle, which is based on Starship, will carry the next man and the first woman to land on the Moon.
  • With the Artemis programme, NASA aims to demonstrate new technologies, capabilities and business approaches that will ultimately be needed for the future exploration of Mars.
Source: Indian Express

Lichens and Air quality

  • Lichens may look like small plants, but they’re actually composites of a fungus and an algae.
  • The algae in lichens photosynthesize and both the algae and fungus absorb water, minerals, and pollutants from the air, through rain and dust.

Impact of Pollution

  • Some sensitive lichen species develop structural changes in response to air pollution including reduced photosynthesis and bleaching.
  • Pollution can also cause the death of the lichen algae, discoloration and reduced growth of the lichen fungus, or kill a lichen completely.
  • Over time, sensitive species may be replaced by pollution-tolerant species. Hence the species of lichens present in a location and the concentration of pollutants measured in those lichens can tell us a lot about air quality.
Source: National Park Service, US

Live reporting of court proceedings constitute Right to freedom of speech: Supreme Court

Context of judgement Madras HC remarks

  • The court declined a plea made by the Election Commission of India to restrain the media from reporting oral remarks made by a Division Bench of the Madras High court.
  • The HC judges had said that poll body offivials charged with “murder” for allowing rallies and mass gatherings during the Tamil Nadu Assembly elections. The judges had remarked that the EC was solely responsible for the COVID surge.

What does the judgement say?

  • Real­time reportage of court proceedings, including the oral exchanges in courtrooms between judges and lawyers, is part of the right to freedom of speech.
  • Gujarat High Court had recently introduced live­ streaming of its proceedings in a bid to enhance public participation in the dispensation of justice.   With the advent of technology, there is reporting proliferate through social media forums which provide real­time updates to a much wider audience. This is an extension of the freedom of speech and expression that the media possesses. This constitutes a virtual extension of the open court.
  • Such live reporting of court proceedings is a cause of celebration rather than apprehension.
  • Except in cases of child sexual abuse and marital issues, the phenomenon of free press should extend to court proceedings.
  • Citizens have a right to to be informed  about what transpires in the course of judicial proceedings.
  • It would be retrograde for this court to promote the rule of law and access to justice on one hand, and shield the daily operations of the High Courts and this court from the media in all its forms, by gagging the reporting of proceeding
Source: The Hindu

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